Leak-solving the Smart way

An unprecedented union of water companies and Severn Trent Services have joined forces to address the water shortage problems. Their collaboration has resulted in a new meter - the SmartMeter C100R - being designed and tested. In the first of a series of quarterly articles for WET News, Neil Furmidge provides an insight into the meter's creation.

In recent years, below average rainfall and rapidly increasing demand for water has led to the current shortages and scarcity issues in the South-east. Indeed a House of Lords Select Committee report on Water Management quantified the current water scarcity by saying: “Over the last 18 months the region has received less than 85% of its average rainfall… At the same time, demand for water is increasing because of population growth, a decreasing average household size and growing use of water-intensive appliances.”

In an attempt to address future shortfalls, many water companies are reviewing water resource strategy, in the form of both demand and supply side measures, with changes to domestic water metering policy and plans for alternative methods of supply to be made available.

One example of this is Thames Water, which plans to build a £1B reservoir in Oxfordshire to cope with an expected increase in demand of 230ml per day in London by 2030. The company favours a mix of demand and supply measures, including metering upon change of occupancy in residential properties and continuing to fix leaks in London’s Victorian pipe network.

Several studies have been completed to review the impact of metering on consumption in residential properties. As a result, it is generally accepted that metered customers use on average between 10% and 15% less than their neighbours without meters.

To reduce this water usage, the residential customer needs to have easily understood consumption information. Educating homeowners about their water use through the provision of more detailed and easier to understand bills would make them responsible for their water consumption.

However, the provision of more comprehensive billing is dependent on the availability of detailed consumption data to allow customers to compare their average water use with that of the previous billing period. In the UK current metering technology is not capable of offering such complex data.

Meters installed in boundary boxes are ideally located for monitoring supply pipe leakage. They are also susceptible to grit damage during installation, and therefore able to benefit from using no-moving part flow measurement.

Market leader in SmartMeter electronic meters and automatic reading systems, Severn Trent Metering Services (STMS) decided that a new approach was required to address the water shortages plaguing the UK. The development of a new meter that could identify and fix the supply pipe leakage that is estimated to account for up to 7% of all water supplied to the network in conjunction with an effective metering programme could help to provide enough water to alleviate the shortfall.

The company went right to the source, approaching seven UK water companies to form a consortium to identify and specify a new intelligent concentric water meter and to bring the product to market. The consortium comprised a cross section of UK water utilities, and each meeting was hosted by one of the water companies so that the group focused on what was required by the utilities as opposed to what could be designed by the engineers.

The key areas for discussion were meter pricing, the physical design and the performance characteristics in addition to the data output and collection method.

Tariff structure

The seven consortium utilities agreed that there was an essential need for an intelligent meter that could provide both leakage detection and tariff charging options. Peak consumption monitoring was also a key requirement, as both a network demand management tool and a further potential tariff option to control disproportionate consumption by some customers during periods of peak demand.

While leakage detection was relatively easy to specify, utilities needed to know which properties had leaks, how big the leaks were, and when they had started. Tariff options were less easy to define.

The preferred tariff structure and its potential implementation was debated extensively – ultimately it was determined that seasonal tariffs, monthly tariffs and peak demand tariffs along with options for time of day tariffs would all be required within the specification. In developing the concentric meter, the main challenge was to determine how to collect the radio transmissions from the meter. Two main options were considered: fixed network systems and mobile reading systems.

Fixed networks require frequent transmission of data through the entire network and the remote storage and processing of that data. More importantly, fixed networks are not compatible with current UK meter installation patterns, as they require a high density of installed meters in order to be cost effective.

Until now, mobile reading solutions were only ever capable of providing a single reading at the actual time of reading. By putting intelligence and data storage into the meter itself, the data can be processed at source and releases the water company from the burden of installing and maintaining a dedicated data collection network.

The SmartMeter C100R concentric water meter has been developed to the specification created by the consortium and was launched in July 2006 at the Global Smart Metering for Water Conference with excellent feedback. The meter can support on board data processing and event monitoring and is available as a complete boundary box solution, with the meter pre-installed and ready to go.

The new Smart Concentric meter was designed to work with mobile collecting systems and provides a far more cost-effective solution in the short to medium term, whilst being ready for fixed network applications, once the density of installed meters is ready to support it. Being able to process data at source, the meter reduces the dependency on high levels of data traffic and avoids the need for top heavy systems and the associated problems of data saturation.

The combination of an integrated radio, electronic clock calendar and the real-time transmission of network event data every 30 seconds will provide water companies with a range of tools to better manage their water networks. The C100R enables a wide range of tariff options to be applied including time-of-day, seasonal and peak demand tariffs, as well as offering itemised billing data for customers.

Also, the meter has built-in leakage detection with detailed leak information and peak demand monitoring.

Five hundred Smart concentric meters have been manufactured and are being installed across nationwide now. As soon as they are installed, the meters will immediately begin monitoring leakage, consumption and peak demand levels, allowing detailed analysis of their stored data to take place as soon as two or three months from now.

Over the coming 12 months, around 10,000 meters will be installed as part of the ongoing work of the consortium and during this period the data analysis tools and software systems and data standards will be developed and finalised.

Water shortages continue to be a major concern in the UK. The situation will not improve until positive steps are taken to help consumers manage their water usage more economically.

Neil Furmidge is business development director at Severn Trent Metering Services.

T: 0121 313 2300.

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