Smart Metering Solutions: Growing focus on AMI for effective water management

Growing focus on AMI for effective water management

India has turned out to be one of the most promising meter markets in the world due to its large untapped potential, especially in the water segment. As per industry estimates, India accounts for less than 2-3 per cent of the global market for smart meters. However, of late, metering has become an important aspect of water projects in the country in a bid to address issues such as a high level of non-revenue water, unchecked leakages and overflows, and unauthorised and reckless water consumption. These issues cause a serious dent in project economics, and the economic prescription for improvement is measurement.

Currently, meter manufacturing and installation is a niche market, which is usually clustered around urban centres such as Delhi, Bengaluru and Nagpur. However, with the growing focus on the adoption of metering practices across the country, the supply side of the market is evolving in parallel. As per an analysis by Frost & Sullivan, the demand for smart water meters in India can reach up to 500,000 units by 2025, from 220,000 units in 2019. The smart water meter market in the country is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.7 per cent during 2019-25.

There are a number of metering options available in the market, and continuous technological advancements point towards more intelligent solutions in the future. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has of late become an integrated system of smart meters, communication networks and data management systems that enables two-way communication between urban local bodies (ULBs) and consumers. It captures and communicates the network status status and consumption data remotely on a real-time basis. The consumption data is transferred from the electric meter to the utility (one-way communication) via GPRS or radio wave for billing, troubleshooting and analysis. The key adopters of AMI are Delhi and Thane.

Role of the private sector

The metering market has started witnessing increased activity over the past few years due to the rising level of water stress. This  calls for responsible usage of water on the consumers’ end and economic supply of the resource on the suppliers’ end. Metered water connections have thus become a central aspect of water network management by ULBs. These service providers have been carrying out their metering drive by engaging private players to provide end-to-end metering solutions. Services such as supply, installation, operation and maintenance, raising consumer awareness, conducting primary surveys and training ULB personnel for using meter-related soft infrastructure are being tendered out as packages to private entities. Historically, these players have focused on the traditional meters segment, which is now beginning to change given the shift towards smart solutions. The major foreign players offering advanced metering solutions include Itron (US), the Arad Group (Israel) and Zenner (Germany). Meanwhile, with new information and communications technologies blending with metering solutions, pure-play entities such as Tata Communications, IBM and Siemens have also come out with product offerings.

Technological penetration

In India, metering has become a crucial component of predictive asset maintenance based on the data generated for usage patterns. With the advent of new technologies, digitalisation of the water network and process automation under initiatives such as Digital India, several new smart metering solutions are emerging. Industry 4.0, cloud computing and the evolving mapping technologies are being integrated with metering solutions, leading to the launch of advanced products. End-to-end solutions have been launched by players such as McWane India.

Tata, for instance, has a low-power wide area network (LoRaWAN) and a cloud-based application to enable web-based dashboard access, etc. Estonia-based Nordic Automation Systems and SenRa have collaborated to introduce smart metering devices (LoRaWAN based), specifically designed for the Indian water market. The technology connects low-cost, battery-operated sensors over long distances. As of 2019, the LoRaWAN network has reached over 50 cities in the country, as per SenRa.

The application of internet of things (IoT) in smart metering solutions is beginning to gain steam. In Bengaluru, for instance, since 2014, a number of resident welfare associations have been using an application called WaterOn. It allows individual households to keep track of their water usage and curb wastage. The back-end infrastructure consists of special purpose cables that connect all the water meters and store consumption data for 45 days. At present, pure-play software and IoT firms are designing such solutions.

Cities like Delhi have implemented end-to-end solutions such as revenue management systems (RMSs). The key idea is to digitalise access to a log of services in the form of consistent cyclical billing, accurate billing and minimal meter-to-bill and bill-to-cash-cycles. It replaces offline billing with advanced online billing software, recording real-time transactions on a central server. At present, the Delhi Jal Board is executing the second phase of the RMS, RMS 2.0. The project is expected to end by March 2023.

Adoption of smart meters by utilities

A number of service providers have now enabled, or are in the process of enabling, online access to services such as billing, payments and application for new connections. These providers include the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board and the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC).

The PMC is taking steps for the installation of over 275,000 smart water meters. The project is expected to take about three years to complete. The smart meters are being provided by Sensus, a Xylem brand. Through the installation of these meters, the PMC aims to bring down its non-revenue water by half during this time and  thus save on its water and electricity costs.

In the area under the PCMC, there are 140,000 household meters and around 13,000 commercial meters at present. All of these are mechanical meters, which were deployed during the implementation of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. The PCMC is planning to replace these meters with AMI meters for bulk consumers. It is also planning to adopt LoRaWAN technology for smart meters.

All the water connections in the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) area are metered. The NDMC is now planning to replace all of the 24,000 conventional meters with AMI meters as part of its 24×7 water supply project. The utility has also utilised mobiles and tablets to capture meter readings and generate on-the-spot bills. With this, consumers can also get their bills generated by sending pictures of the reading through an app.

The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board has already started installing automated meter reading-enabled digital water meters in commercial properties across the city. The project is being implemented under the Smart Cities Mission at an estimated cost of Rs 95 million. A software is being developed to enable automated reading and monitoring of water meters from the board’s offices. The board plans to identify other commercial establishments and domestic consumers as well for the installation of smart meters in the second phase of the project.

The way forward

With rapidly changing technology and internet applications, smart metering solutions have emerged as an effective answer to issues such as non-metering, incorrect billing, illegal/legal but uncharged connections, and treatment work losses. Smart metering solutions are coming up in a big way owing to the declining price of data connectivity and the increasing value of the metering data that is being generated and transmitted. In addition to accurate monitoring of water usage for effective billing, the metering data generated holds immense potential to gauge future requirements by bringing in efficiency to both the supply and demand sides of water management. The growth of smart cities and the focus on digitalisation, as well as the unprecedented thrust on better water management, have resulted in strong growth prospects for smart meter providers in India. Moreover, in the challenging Covid-19 times, when door-to-door meter reading has become difficult, the use of smart meters has allowed utilities to track water consumption remotely and ensure service continuity.