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How smart water meters can tap into a revenue ‘goldmine’

Home Engineering Electronic - Instrumentation & Control How smart water meters can tap into a revenue ‘goldmine’

By Chetan Mistry

NON-revenue water remains a challenge – and yet a significant opportunity – for South African municipalities.

According to the World Bank’s Water Resources Group, around 41% of municipal water in the country goes to waste, higher than the average of 35% and well behind the global best practice of 15%. The group estimates that non-revenue water (NRW) costs municipalities to the tune of R9.9 billion each year.

Non-revenue water occurs for a number of reasons, such as leaks and wastage, but a significant portion happens through poor metering and billing practices.

Municipalities lose a tremendous amount of money just because bills are incorrect. That leads to lost income, and it also erodes support for the municipalities. But the situation also provides a great opportunity when you factor in technology solutions such as automated meter reading and smart meters.”

Water meters essentially generate data, which is most often collected manually or self-reported, both methods that can lead to many errors. Those errors ultimately create backlogs and blind spots that reduce revenue. Even if a municipality has a reasonably good capturing process, it’s likely inefficient and hides opportunities for even greater returns.

Digital reporting systems (such as automated meter reading, mobile meter reading systems and advanced metering infrastructure) can significantly reduce the cost and time of capturing meter data. Such systems also significantly improve accuracy, leading to better returns and more satisfied customers.

Municipalities can reduce their error rates while optimising their infrastructure and practices, using data analytics to discover improvements and hidden revenue.

Customers benefit from more accurate information and the ability to spot errors sooner – delays in registering faulty bills are significant contributors to poor payment. Meter data also helps municipalities understand consumption demand, while the additional layers of information can gradually build better payment cultures among end-users.

3 choices for better water reading

Going digital with meters makes sense, and there are several ways to introduce such services. Rather than adopt a wholesale replacement strategy, municipalities should study their choices and scale in new ways to monitor meters. Generally speaking, there are three choices to improve meter systems:

Automatic Meter Reading

Automatic meter reading (AMR) is related to meters that can transmit their readings wirelessly. Sometimes also referred to as smart meters, this system transmits high quality, reliable data and event triggers such as leak or battery alerts from the meter.

AMR has become advantageous for many municipalities to start creating digital billing and analytics without needing hugely elaborate changes to underlying infrastructure or processes.

Mobile AMR systems

There is still a case for manual meter data collection. It creates employment and spot-checks on meters will highlight bottlenecks and potential efficiencies. Using a mobile AMR reading system bring the worlds of digital and manual meter reading together.

They enable an agent to gather meter data wirelessly by using a handheld device or an equipped vehicle driving in the proximity of meters. Since data collection is streamlined through a wireless connection, the results are accurate and suitable for analytics.

Advanced metering infrastructure

For densely populated areas, high-volume customers with fluctuating water demands or for areas requiring nuanced water monitoring, using Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) networks will provide additional value to municipalities.

AMI network features include real-time data and automated controls for municipalities, enabling them to react to water events in real time. AMI can be elaborate and require significant changes to a municipality’s digital infrastructure and working processes. Yet it is a fantastic system for any municipality.

Municipalities sit on a goldmine. If one tallies the losses of non-revenue water, it also translates into untapped riches that, with the proper support, can lead to significant earnings. Digital metering systems are the conduits for data that lead to better billing, management and insight.

Start small, select digital metering technologies that make sense for the right places, and start taking back that 41% of revenue that is literally going down the drain.

Chetan Mistry is Strategy and Marketing Manager for Xylem Africa

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