Environment Agency urges smart metering

A robust new water strategy was launched by the Environment Agency at the end of March. Natasha Wiseman highlights its key points

Near universal metering of households is a key component of the Environment Agency's (EA) Water Resources Strategy for England and Wales, Water for people and the environment. In it, the EA urges all water users to make bold changes to the way they consume water and advocates smart metering as a key component of a wide range of measures.

Speaking at the launch in London, EA chief executive, Paul Leinster, said: "Water is essential for life and vital to our economy. But climate change and population growth mean there may not be enough in England and Wales in the future for people and the environment unless we start planning and acting now.

"People and businesses need to use less water and wasting water needs to cost a lot more. The proposals in our new strategy cover actions that need to be taken by water companies, government, regulators, businesses and the public, and we need a joined up approach to this problem to prevent it's becoming a crisis."

The report explains that the current piecemeal approach to water metering is not as cost effective as near universal metering. "We would like to see the majority of homes in seriously water stressed areas metered by 2015. But we recognise that because of the numbers of meters to be installed, some companies may not be able to achieve full metering until 2020," it says.

Combined metering
The report also urges the development of combined energy and water smart meters: "With the imminent roll out of new meters across both sectors, the opportunity for interoperability may be lost without an initiative to bring these together." It continues, "We urge the water industry, the energy industry and the meter manufacturers to work together."

The report recognises that metering needs a safety net for poor and vulnerable customers. However Leinster says that the advantage of smart metering is that people can see their consumption: "We have a duty to be ambitious," he said, " because the stress is here and now."

The EAs's head of water resources, Ian Barker, said that metering "needs to be the best value solution" in any given area.

The strategy has been broadly welcomed across the industry; Southern Water chief executive Les Dawson, whose company is in one of the most water stressed areas of the UK, gave 100% support to the report. He said that the cost going forward would be even higher unless action was taken immediately.

Dawson also urged attention to the repair of service pipes, which would become a more pressing issue once householders were directly paying the cost of leakage within their grounds, and suggested taking a similar approach to the adoption of private sewers.

Carol Hickman, executive director of the Society of British Water and Wastewater Industries told WWT that the organisation's members looked forward to working with the government and water companies to provide metering, installation and data management services to meet the required reduction in water.

"With the reinforced message contained within the strategy paper from the EA about the state of our future water resource, the need for the water industry to manage this valuable commodity is clear and evident," she said

Steve Leigh, managing director of meter housing specialist Groundbreaker Systems also welcomed the report. He said: "Compulsory and ultimately intelligent metering will enable every customer to monitor their water usage through their own PC or by physically reading the meter."

Regulation
The EA also said that a review of the way the water industry is regulated is required, with the introduction of stronger incentives to reward water companies for reducing the water provided. It points out the anomaly of asking water companies to reduce demand while rewarding them for "selling as much product as possible".

The report points out that this is at odds with both the principles of sustainable development and those of climate change adaptation and mitigation, and urges a "water service companies approach", which would put the provision of sustainable water services at the centre of companies' delivery and rewards.

The report calls into question the whole structure of the industry, where vertical integration of all aspects of public water supply in a single company can lead to inefficient allocation and a lack of sharing. It says that by merging neighbouring operations, real advantages could be achieved for customers and the environment through better integration.

The EA says it has identified companies in southeast England with over capacity and expected a greater sharing of resources between them and water companies with deficits.

The EA also warns that it is looking at reforms in charges and is considering charging by volume abstracted, rather than by licensed quantity and reduced charges for some winter abstraction to encourage more small-scale storage reservoirs.

Energy
The EA highlights the close link between water consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and notes the efforts utilities are taking to monitor carbon footprints. Transport, heating and treatment of water together account for over 6% of the UK's carbon footprint. The government's metering target could reduce GHG emissions between 27 and 40% of the total UK carbon reduction commitment target.

The EA also hinted at consumer measures such as the removal of VAT on water efficient white goods. But the strategy goes further in addressing the energy utilities' need to take account of their water requirements in planning, especially in relation to hydroelectric and nuclear energy installations in the context of a changing climate.

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