Smart Water Meters: Smarter Water Management for Cities and Towns

by Jim Adams, General Manager - Texas
August 16, 2019
smart-water-meters

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 36 states face water shortages, making effective conservation of water more important than ever. Replacing mechanical water meters with automated, digital meters is vital for bringing communities into the 21st century as Smart Cities and Towns, at least in terms of critical water management.

What is a Smart Water Meter?

Digital water meters, also referred to as “smart” water meters rely on solid-state technology in a compact, weatherproof housing, suitable for both commercial and residential applications. Electronic metering provides information such as gallons per minute of water flow, reverse-flow indication, and other operating data not typically available from mechanical meters. Water consumption data, paired with a secure network, provide residential and commercial customers with an online portal with a simple dashboard view to help keep them informed on their daily water usage.

Water utilities throughout the country are making the transition from an antiquated, manual process of reading water meters to Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) technologies that will enable them to automate water meter reading, detect water leaks, and transmit water consumption data in real-time, and streamline customer billing. 

Infographic depicting how advanced metering infrastructures work

The Need for Water Meter Replacement

Old mechanical meters degrade over time and may fail to provide accurate measurement readings. Hard water, debris, age, lime deposits, and corrosion all reduce the accuracy of analog meters, leading to lower measurements and the risk of unbilled water use.

This means cities and towns could potentially be losing as much as 15-25% of their annual water revenues due to aging technologies and water distribution infrastructure. According to a 2014 national research statistic, 2.1 trillion gallons are lost each year because of aging and leaky pipes, broken water mains, and faulty water meters at a national cost of $3 billion.

The Benefits of Smart Water Meters

  • Timely water usage data: Smart water meters can provide daily water consumption data for both the water utility and customers, with the ability to set customizable alerts.
  • Accurate billing: With more precise meter readings, cities can bill more accurately, and customers have more control of their water consumption.
  • Water revenue optimization: Reducing the amount of unbilled water due to accurate meter reading and timely leak detection can increase utility revenues.
  • Water leak detection: Real-time water consumption data can provide proactive service for identifying and resolving leaks, both with your customers and within your distribution system.
  • Scalable: Most AMI technologies allow for real-time water data and provide a platform to enhance other services, such as street light integration, pressure monitoring, distribution leak detection, and SCADA integration.
  • Pin-Point Accuracy: We are talking water drops here!  The evolution of Mag and Ultra-Sonic metering technologies is allowing water utilities to read at long-term, sustained low flow rates that have never been achievable with traditional mechanical meters.

Financing a Water Meter Replacement Project

To help finance water meter replacement projects without incurring capital spending, public owners can use energy savings performance contracting legislation (ESPC) through an accredited energy savings company or ESCO. This flexible funding mechanism enables municipalities to utilize the increase in billable revenues, energy savings, operational savings, and avoided capital costs to pay for critical infrastructure improvements, including water meter efficiency improvements. As a result, no up-front capital investment is required. Project costs are 100% financed and are repaid with guaranteed savings and revenue increases.

Pie chart representation of energy saving performance contracting for water meter projects

How to Implement a Water Meter Project

After selecting an ESCO provider, the project begins with an energy and utility audit, where the ESCO identifies opportunities and potential savings areas and then recommends any number of energy conservation measures and water revenue optimization options. Together, the utility and the ESCO agree upon the project scope. The ESCO guarantees minimum energy savings, increased water revenues and efficiencies, and operational savings to cover the project's cost. Once the project is completed, the ESCO monitors the performance of the project to ensure guarantees are achieved or exceeded.

Case Study Example: City of Jacksonville, TX

Faced with aging water meters and inefficient metering, the City of Jacksonville entered into an Energy Savings Performance Contract with Performance Services in December of 2018 to replace all 5,452 existing water meters with new “smart meters.”

The project improvements will save the City $9.6 million over 15 years. This new advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) technology provides the City and residents with more visibility into their water usage with online monitoring tools on a secure network. The City can now monitor pressure throughout the water distribution system. Additionally, because of the City’s forethought to better prepare for natural disasters, a radio-controlled auto-shut-off design feature is included to enable the City to shut off all residential water meters, if necessary.

When Texas temperatures dropped well below freezing on February 12, 2021, the system was put into action, and some water shut-offs began. This saved the City millions of gallons of potential water loss and prevented devastating damage to the water pipe infrastructure. Greg Smith, City Manager (Former), commented, “If it were not for this project, our water loss from this storm would have been staggering, and our residents could have seen a much worse situation. But with this project, we were able to proactively save water and prevent countless homes from extended water damage.”

As a result of this project, the 2021 Smart 50 Awards program recognized the City of Jacksonville project as one of 50 projects globally for its innovation and community impact. 

Bringing It All Together

Smart water meters delivered through proven AMI technologies are a safe approach to modernizing commercial and residential water meters and are an essential step in becoming a smart city or town. The automated meter system ensures water usage is accurately and efficiently tracked, saving time and money for water utilities and their customers. 

Interested in becoming a Smart City? Let's Talk!

 

Photo of Jim Adams

Jim Adams

General Manager - Texas

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