Reduce utility
water loss and
save money with
smart meters

Author: Gary Hilson

Combating water loss is one of the most important challenges of our time. Global demand is anticipated to increase along with population rises, while climate change is expected to exacerbate water stress issues like droughts.

Water loss can happen in various places, but a considerable amount occurs within the distribution network itself due predominantly to underground water pipe leaks, among other things. According to estimates, in the UK alone, 2,954 million liters of water leak from the nationwide water system every day. Not only does this waste an important resource, but it also costs companies money and damages vital infrastructure. Mitigating water loss at the utility level is therefore paramount.

To do this, modernizing aging water systems is critical, and it should start with a simple but effective solution: smart meters. Smart metering systems that utilize a cloud platform can more effectively and quickly identify and monitor water loss in order to prevent it, save resources, reduce maintenance costs and provide more accurate billing information.

What are the causes and effects of municipal water loss?

Typically, the biggest issue for water companies and municipalities is fixing leakages that are difficult to locate. In the US, water utilities operate extensive treatment and piping infrastructure that process over 42 billion gallons of water withdrawn from water sources each day, according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency. The scale of these systems means that finding faults can be a challenge in and of itself. What's more, infrastructure is often aging and, in many cases, near the end of its intended design life.

Without scalable smart solutions, it's inevitable such vast, labyrinthine legacy networks will encounter leaks, breaks and spills. And if these problems are not efficiently remedied, just as inevitable is the rise in associated costs.

A 2020 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) found that households face drastically higher water loss costs over the next two decades—up to $14 billion—due to declining infrastructure and service interruptions.

Pipe leaks accounted for the loss of $7.6 billion in treated water in 2019. This waste, which is attributed to rising water main breaks, is projected to more than double by 2039, reaching $16.7 billion. According to the ASCE, between 2012 and 2018, the rate at which these incidents occurred in the US rose by a quarter to approximately 300,000 breaks a year, or more than one every two minutes. Without action, the report predicts that the businesses that depend the most on water could spend $250 billion on service irregularities in 2039.

Additionally, inaccuracies due to metering problems or record-keeping can cause frustrating billing headaches for customers and utilities alike, such as delays in issuing demands and receiving payments, which drive up admin costs.

How can technology, specifically smart meters, support water loss management?

Water stress is an ongoing dilemma that is set to worsen as demand increases; United Nations data shows that in the last century, water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increases. As the ASCE highlights, tackling it must be a priority for utilities and municipalities globally.

Fortunately, smart meters, along with developments in sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud technology provide a cost-effective and scalable solution. Sensor-enabled smart meters designed for water networks closely monitor pipes and other infrastructure in real time and accurately record water flows, usage and other factors. The technology also provides utility staff with operational and billing information in near real time. For ease of operations, metering software can provide an end-to-end solution that remotely integrates, configures, monitors, manages and controls infrastructure-wide water meter sensors.

Similarly, look for intelligent water solutions that include preconfigured data and analytics dashboards to help utilities quickly pinpoint leaks, backflow, tampering and abnormal usage patterns—and quickly respond.

These wide-ranging but precise data points help operators know what's happening on a detailed scale within the network, enabling them to develop a thorough water loss strategy to mitigate the reasons for losses and improve water conservation. They also give customers greater insight into their own water use and consumption.

In addition, smart metering can help improve water utility efficiencies by automating processes like meter readings to reduce labor costs and speed up admin processes. In turn, automated meter reading can reduce the number of truck runs to manually check meters, lowering overall operational carbon impacts as well as costs.

The accuracy and timeliness of smart meter data delivery can also provide operators with greater resiliency to plan for changes in revenue and to more precisely manage maintenance schedules, enabling them to react quickly or adopt predictive maintenance techniques. Furthermore, smart metering applications connected with the right network guarantee reliability and security.

Importantly, however, utilities don't have to swap over their entire meter population all at once, which can seem like a daunting task. They can start with problem areas first on a per-month, per-meter cost basis and expand at their own pace. What's more, it doesn't require large upfront capital investments, specialized hardware or long deployment times. Utilities can go at their own pace.

IoT smart meter-supported water networks are key to sustainability, high service quality and cost reduction.

Learn how Verizon's grid intelligence helped one city in the southeastern US conserve water and save money.