Smart Water Meters --Way Forward to beat Water Scarcity Crisis

Water is one of the basic components that promotes life on Earth, yet a multitude of factors has created enormous stress on the availability of freshwater across the globe. This crisis has reached such dire levels that the World Economic Forum in its 2019 Global Risks Report, lists water scarcity among the largest global risks in terms of potential impact over the next decade.

Currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. A recent NITI Aayog report - that draws data from 24 of the 29 states in India - predicts that India’s water crisis is only going to get worse. According to some estimates, 21 cities are likely to run out of groundwater by 2020. Given this scenario, it is incumbent upon both the government and the nation’s citizens, to find ways to address the crisis and avert it.. 

There needs to be a global, strategic, sustained and multi-pronged approach if we hope to tackle this crisis meaningfully. The widespread adoption of smart water meters could be a small but significant step in the battle to save our cities from a Doomsday crisis with regards to water availability; as they help governments, cities and water utility providers improve their infrastructure and enhance the quality of life of the communities they serve. 

Smart meters can improve and bolster water conservation efforts in a number of tangible ways: 

Greater Visibility into Leakages

Water loss from mains and service pipes is an important issue that utility providers confront across the globe. As per a United Nations 2016 World Water Development report, estimates indicate that about 30 percent of global water abstraction is lost through leakage. Other studies show that at a conservative estimate, the national loss of processed water through leaks in the water distribution systems amounts to 1012 litres per year, which is equivalent to 500 million rupees. 

Smart meters can help to detect leaks within the distribution pipe network. Global statistics indicate that deploying smart meters that deliver real-time, highly accurate data relating to the activity in the network, can reduce water loss by 15-20 percent. 

In addition, fast acting alarms can help engineers quickly assess a pipe burst and deploy maintenance teams to minimise flood damage and ensure that potential downstream contamination is contained as quickly as possible, avoiding potential health concerns..

Creating Awareness among Consumers

For any water conservation effort to be truly successful, the nation’s citizens and consumers have perhaps the biggest role to play and it is essential to build up their awareness of the looming crisis. For instance, most people vastly underestimate the amount of water that they use on a daily basis.  Smart water meters play a pivotal role in helping customers gain a realistic picture of their actual water consumption on a real-time basis.  Consumers can even observe patterns of behaviour that assist in identifying areas where they could conserve water. Measures, such as replacing regular toilet flush tanks with more eco-friendly versions, optimizing the use of washing machines and dishwashers, can make a huge difference to the total household water consumption. 

The objective is to generate awareness and educate as opposed to doling out punishments or fines for water wastage. By detailing their water consumption, especially in relation to neighbours in their local community, households can be encouraged to set daily or monthly water consumption targets and receive notifications when they are close to their defined limit. 

Better Control for Utilities Providers

Through the use of smart meters, utilities providers exercise better control over water consumption patterns. For example, since usage patterns can be monitored closely, restrictions can be placed on using water for non-critical purposes, such as car washing, during peak summer or at times when water levels are dwindling. 

At the same time, utility companies can incentivize smart usage of water by offering reward- points for water conservation efforts. Similarly, there could be cost penalties for major over-consumption. 

Utilising very accurate smart meters that can detect low flow rates down to 1litre/hr, with measurements made during the early-hours of the morning when water consumption is minimal, provides the ability to address customer-side leakage. Customer-side leakage occurs within the customers own property and often the homeowner is completely unaware of the leaking pipe beneath their feet or faulty toilet. Helping the customer know they have a leak that is then repaired, can save that customer significant amounts of money that would have otherwise been, quite literally, going down the drain.

Access to Data

Perhaps the biggest advantage of smart meters is the ability to provide unprecedented amounts of real-time insight into water usage. Service providers can also get immediate feedback on the success of water conservation efforts undertaken by the consumers; which is of great benefit when it comes to informing policy decisions. Traditional / mechanical meters only provide data at the end of the month when someone has to go to the site of the water meter, in person, and physically record the data. Since only past data is available, it does not allow real-time action to correct immediate issues. It also delays decision-making around corrective measures, or new initiatives. 

Several prominent cities around the world face a very real risk of an imminent “Day Zero” water crisis where they would actually run out of water. Taking cognizance of this issue and putting in place proactive steps to address it is an imperative, to ensure these cities remain habitable over the coming decades. 

Recently, the Pune Municipality Corporation launched its water distribution project to meet growing demand and to future-proof itself against a potential water crisis. As a result, Pune has become the first city in India to deploy smart water meters by Sensus aligned to the country’s Smart City Mission. This ensures that the city can deliver a continuous water supply to all its inhabitants. 

Over the next few months, we need to see many similar measures taken by various City Governments in order to avert the impending water crisis that is staring us in the face. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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