Smarter water consumption requires smarter water data

These days, I don't write about every little sneeze or hiccup related to smart grid or smart meter deployments because this blog could easily become SmartGrid Pastures instead of a broader exploration of green technology and green IT developments. But given the corporate sustainability strategy writing that I also do for ZDNet's sister blog network, SmartPlanet, I'm more tuned in than ever, right now, to developments related to water management consumption and management.

These days, I don't write about every little sneeze or hiccup related to smart grid or smart meter deployments because this blog could easily become SmartGrid Pastures instead of a broader exploration of green technology and green IT developments. But given the corporate sustainability strategy writing that I also do for ZDNet's sister blog network, SmartPlanet, I'm more tuned in than ever, right now, to developments related to water management consumption and management. And the smart grid will have as much of an impact on the management of water as it will on the management of electricity.

That's why I noticed a new research report from Pike Research suggesting that the cumulative global investment in smart water meters will total approximately $4.2 billion between 2010 and 2016. By the end of that period, annual spending on smart water meters will be about $856 million, the research firm predicts. That's a 110 percent increase over 2010 spending. It terms of sheer deployment numbers, there could be 31.8 million meters in place.

Says Pike Research analyst Jevan Fox:

"Water metering alone has a powerful conservation impact. Studies show that using water meters to bill customers based on their actual consumption cuts water use by 15 percent or more. When water suppliers add meter reading automation to the mix, the conservation impact is even more significant."

Personally, I love this idea, although I would be more thrilled about it if the meters were read more via a smart network that didn't require some ugly new meter to be bolted onto the side of my house. I know it sounds really trivial and petty, but I really DO believe that the adoption of green technologies such as solar panels (which would look awful on my roof) and smart meters (which would look awful on the front of my house) is at least partly due to aesthetics. Seriously.

But I digress, and this post is really about the fact that I believe smart water technologies will quickly begin to capture more attention from state and municipal governments that are waking up to the fact that this very valuable resource is mismanaged. Plus, this winter has reminded us that water is a very unpredictable resource. After an ultra-dry summer in New Jersey last year, we have had way more snow than usual. This, in theory, should have an impact on my rates in month when everything melts. But our existing systems aren't sophisticated enough to allow that.

What will it take to make Pike's prediction hold water (so to speak)?

In my mind, more integration of the technologies that will underlie smart water networks. That's the stated intention of a new global industry association called SWAN (Smart Water Networks Forum). SWAN was formed with the idea of developing smart data applications and integration technologies that will piggyback on the existing physical water network and make it smarter. Remember, just as there is a whole lot of legacy electricity infrastructure, there is a LOT of legacy water infrastructure. And, in many cases, a lot of that infrastructure is older.

The founding members of SWAN include the following companies:

  • Derceto (which provides software for water distribution)
  • Echologics (a division of Mueller Water that provides leak detection technology)
  • i2O Water (focused on distribution and leak detection)
  • TaKaDu (water distribution monitoring)
  • Telvent (smart grid integration)
  • Schneider Electric (grid management)

A number of water utilities are becoming involved as part of the SWAN advisory committee.

In a press release announcing the formation of SWAN, i2O Chief Technology Officer Andrew Burrows notes:

"The vision for the industry must be to develop fully integrated systems which allow water companies to remotely monitor, diagnose problems for preemptive maintenance, remotely control and remotely optimize all aspects of the water and wastewater network. By sharing ideas and collaborating with leading technology suppliers and customers through this forum we believe that this vision can be achieved."

When you're dealing with water that must be shuttled around from region to region from systems to system, that information becomes all the more important. In my opinion, expect accelerated progress on the smart water meter front over the next several years -- especially as towns and cities grapple with how to better manage an increasingly dear resource.

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