Globally, digital technologies such as smart water meters have been successful in lowering non-revenue water (NRW) and minimising water loss. A primary driver of the smart water meter market in India is the increase in income generation for water utilities through improved billing efficiency, increased water conservation and resource optimisation. Smart water meters are also in demand owing to government efforts such as the Smart Cities Mission. The various benefits of smart water meters are leak detection, real-time data gathering and monitoring, and machine-to-machine connections, internet of things (IoT)-enabled advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
Meter manufacturing and installation is currently a niche market, with most of the activity concentrated in cities such as Delhi, Bengaluru and Nagpur. The supply side of the market is developing in tandem with increased focus on the implementation of metering methods across the country. According to Frost & Sullivan, India’s smart water meter demand could reach 500,000 units by 2025, up from 220,000 units in 2019. During 2019-25, the smart water meter market in the country is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.7 per cent. With the government urging states and union territories to replace conventional electricity meters with prepaid smart meters in three years, the smart meter market is expected to witness a robust growth during the forecast period.
AMI is the latest meter reading technology, which is being adopted by utilities in the water industry. AMI technology enables two-way communication between the meter and the user/utility. Hence, it becomes more convenient for users to monitor their water consumption. Further, with the help of this technology, leak detection is easy. Due to this, utilities have been able to reduce their NRW significantly. Other benefits of AMI include better asset management, water conservation and improved customer service.
Challenges in smart water metering
Although there are many benefits and opportunities delivered by smart metering, there are also a few challenges, especially with meters installed in basements or locations with weak signals, suggesting limited network reach. While higher data collection and transmission frequency provides more current information and flexibility, it also comes with drawbacks such as increased energy consumption and as a result, a shorter battery life. It also raises the need for more storage and processing capacity to cope with the rising data volume. Besides, the high cost of implementing smart metering systems is a key impediment. Other technologies are needed to gather, store, transmit and process data, in addition to upgrading existing distribution networks. For regions without grid power, powering the smart water metering devices is frequently a challenge. Off-grid power sources such as solar and wind may be used by utilities. Utilities can install devices with long-lasting batteries in distant areas, where running wires is difficult. The batteries should, in theory, survive for several years before requiring a replacement. Interconnecting diverse systems or upgrading existing networks based on proprietary technology is difficult due to incompatibility. Vendor lock-in, costly upgrades and a lack of flexibility are some other issues.
Gamut of initiatives
Metering has become an important part of predictive asset maintenance in India. It uses the information collected to predict consumption trends. Several new smart metering solutions are emerging as a result of the introduction of new technologies, digitalisation of the water network and process automation under programmes such as Digital India. Metering systems are being combined with Industry 4.0, cloud computing and emerging mapping technologies, resulting in the development of innovative products. McWane India, for example, has introduced end-to-end solutions.
The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has taken a variety of measures to minimise NRW levels. On a trial basis, it awarded private contractors a contract for distribution and revenue collection in three locations (Malviya Nagar, Vasant Vihar and Nangloi) in 2012. As a result, Malviya Nagar’s NRW level plummeted from 45 per cent to 30 per cent. The DJB split the entire city into 1,010 district metered areas (DMAs), with the help of the Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to cut NRW levels. Work on 160 of these DMAs has already begun. In addition, consulting work for another 598 DMAs has been assigned, with completion scheduled by the end of 2020. The board wants to reduce the present NRW level of 45 per cent to 10-15 per cent. It also intends to put smart meters in DMAs, which will be linked to a central monitoring system.
The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is preparing to deploy more than 275,000 smart water meters. It is estimated that the project will take three years to complete. Sensus, a Xylem brand, is providing smart meters. The PMC hopes to reduce by 50 per cent during this period with the installation of these meters, saving money on both water and power. There are now 140,000 home meters and roughly 13,000 business meters in the PMC region. All of these are mechanical meters that were used as part of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission’s execution. For bulk users, the PMC intends to replace these metres with AMI meters. It also intends to use low-power wide area network technology to power smart meters.
The Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority has implemented a centralised integrated water management system (CIWMS) to identify demand for potable water, check illegal supply and analyse incremental supply requirements to meet the demand. The Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has adopted IBMs predictive analysis technology to monitor the actual supply and usage of water. IBM had worked closely with BWSSB to create an operational dashboard, based on IBM’s intelligent operations centre. Chandigarh Smart City Limited has proposed to install LoRaWAN (fixed system)-based 13,700 automated meter reading (AMR)/AMI smart water meters under the 24×7 Manimajra water supply pilot project.
The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board has started installing digital water meters with AMR capabilities in commercial establishments around the city. The Smart Cities Mission is funding the initiative, which is expected to cost Rs 95 million. A software program is being created to allow the board’s offices to read and monitor water meters automatically. In the second phase of the initiative, the board aims to identify further commercial establishments and household consumers for smart meter installation.
IoT is starting to gain traction in smart metering systems. A number of resident welfare organisations in Bengaluru, for example, have been using an app called WaterOn since 2014. Individual families may use it to keep track of their water use and reduce waste. The back-end infrastructure is made up of special purpose cables that connect all the water meters and retain data for 45 days. Such solutions are now being developed by pure-play software and IoT companies.
The way forward
Water utilities are at a crossroads in their efforts to modernise their existing infrastructure in order to increase the reliability of essential operations, to better serve their customers and reduce water wastage. Governments and officials all over the world are also implementing a variety of short- and long-term measures to improve their economies’ water security and self-sufficiency. Water utilities’ ability to keep offering important services to consumers, while operating with limited resources, has been severely hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. After the outbreak is over, utilities must use digital technologies to optimise and automate their water management operations beyond smart metering and meter-to-cash applications in order to make their supply chain more robust to future shocks.
In conclusion, IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and other emerging digital technologies have the potential to transform water utilities by improving day-to-day water management, addressing long-term water security challenges and assisting them in becoming more resilient to natural disasters and climate change. Technologies such as IoT and AI will play an increasingly essential role in the planning and construction of water microgrids for decentralised water and sanitation systems. As water utilities adopt digital technology, it is critical that they design a digitalisation roadmap that prioritises consumer and business outcomes.