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  • Rian Sullings

5 Ways to Gain Extra Value from Digital Metering

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

Extra Value Digital Metering

Digital metering is implemented to achieve a wide range of benefits including identifying leaks, reducing demand on water supplies, automating meter reading, and improving water supply network efficiency. These common benefits may be the primary drivers but there are many other ways that digital metering can deliver additional value.

There are many applications of digital metering that can achieve further benefits, many of which do not require any physical equipment or technology capabilities beyond what many existing digital metering systems already offer. They do however require governance, stakeholder engagement, secure management of data, and people to achieve them. Here are 5 ways to gain extra value from digital metering.

Refining Appliances and Fixtures

When collecting data at scale, utilities can gain powerful insights into the causes of leaks and inefficiencies.

Through questionnaires, on-site audits, or customer provided data, utilities can understand the type, make, and model of appliances and fixtures in customer properties. These details can be associated with water use data and patterns can start to be identified. These patterns can give insights into the water efficiency of certain product for example the differences between low-flow showerheads and higher flow models.

While digital metering for residential properties typically consists of only a single meter where the property is connected to the mains, the time of water use events and flow rates can be used to infer what appliances are in use. This could be further enhanced with individual data that could be collected through simple means such as customers answering a brief questionnaire through a smart phone about their usage habits.

The metal-braided flexible hoses that are used to connect faucets to the stop-tap in the wall under sinks are one of the most substantial causes of household leaks. These are often sold for around $10-25 through hardware or home fit-out stores and are marketed for DIY installation. Unfortunately they seem to have a usable life of around 7 to 10 years and when they fail, they tend to break suddenly and cause significant leaks. If a utility is actively pursuing the identification and rectification of leaks then the digital metering programme, specifically the people and systems that operate it, can collect data on the details of the cause and effect of the leak events. This data can give powerful insights into how to prevent leaks in the future.

Braided Hose Leak Digital Metering

When reliable insights are gained, utilities can look to influence product ratings and certifications and customer awareness campaigns. For example, if braided rubber hoses are found to fail at an average age of 8 years, utilities can influence suppliers to improve the designs or material quality to achieve longer life or increase customer awareness around the frequency at which they need to be proactively replaced. Where the age of the hose is known with a useful degree of accuracy, such as in a newly built home, a suggestion could be sent to recommend pre-emptively replacing the hose before the expected failure time is reached.

Home and Property Insurance

Water leakage is the second most common reason for home insurance claims in Australia at 18.2%, behind storm damage at 21.6%. The most common cause of household water leak insurance claims is the failure of the beforementioned braided flexible hoses. They are responsible for over 30,000 home insurance claims per year totalling around $320 million (2017 figure) in associated costs and repairs to water damaged property. That which costs insurers, costs their customers through premiums and excess fees.

Digital metering can help to greatly reduce the time between when issues start and when they are identified and fixed, especially when people are away and their homes are unoccupied. For example, a concealed leak may run for 3 months before a resident is alerted to the issue by a high water bill, while digital metering can deliver automated alerts to residents as soon as the leak is detected.

Given digital metering’s ability to greatly reduce this time to resolve leaks and therefore the severity of damage, could digital water metering enable insurers to reduce household insurance premiums? Could home insurers be interested in acquiring data from digital water metering? With digital metering programs increasing in prevalence and their direct (leak alerts) and indirect (product fault data collection) benefits to residents having the potential to greatly reduce one of the major cost components of home insurance, this topic is sure to gain more attention in the future.

Smart Home Automation and Virtual Assistants

Home automation has been around for many years now. It is the concept of controlling appliances and devices and providing insights to residents. Home automation systems can control lights, air conditioning, security systems, and home entertainment. They can also connect with smart water using appliances such as washing machines, water heaters, and irrigation controllers.

Smart speakers have become a key growth driver in smart home and home automation technology over the past few years. As of 2019, around 11% of Australian homes have a smart speaker, with analysts expecting this figure to reach around 40% by 2023. Google Home products are leading with around 68.2% market share.

These smart home speakers from major technology companies provide common languages and protocols for devices to communicate with each other and integrate with other systems. This provides a common platform and serves to accelerate the development and mainstream adoption of home automation products and solutions.

Digital Metering Smart Speak Assistants

Driving outcomes and benefits from digital metering is key to the success of residential digital metering programs and this requires some degree of user awareness and initiative. Automation and artificial intelligence have great capability to help to reduce environmental impact and water usage but they need to be easy to implement and operate in order to increase adoption. The simpler a concept is to understand the benefit of and act on, the more likely it is to be done.

Home automation brings new opportunities to save water by providing a common link to smart water using appliances and can deliver greater value when they are also linked to digital water metering data. Home automation platforms with AI virtual assistants such as Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa have the capability to interpret water use data and to associate it with smart appliance use. They also provide a simple interface, to compliment other devices such as smart phones, through voice commands.

By integrating digital meter data with smart home automation, smart speakers can enable a conversation on water use, suggest easy actions to improve efficiency, and inform users of the implication of those actions.

Water savings can be achieved through home automation without digital metering integration, however the results of actions can be quantified and verified when digital metering data is used. For example actual water use data can be associated with the scheduled run time of smart home irrigation controllers. This can give users insights into the proportion of their water use that is going to irrigation. Smart home systems and virtual assistants can then offer to achieve savings through means such as linking control systems with weather forecast data to avoid irrigating on days where it is expected to rain. They can also optimise the time of day of irrigation to reduce losses through evaporation or comply with local restrictions or guidelines. Smart washing machines can be scheduled to complete their cycles just before people arrive home from work and energy peak rates commence, ready for you to hang clothes out to dry. The benefits of actions can be quantified and fed back to users by comparing before and after water use data.

Corporate and Property Sustainability Targets

Sustainability reporting, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and property rating and accreditation are increasingly prevalent. For example, the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) which covers 82% of eligible office space in Australia and is mandatory for office buildings with floor space >1000 square metres. Programmes such as this drive a need for increasingly efficient and sustainable use of utility provided resources.

Reporting on sustainability performance and utility use for facilities with only mechanical manually read metering is commonly done with only quarterly billing readings which only gives 4 data points per year. This provides little insight into usage beyond quarterly total volumes and some seasonal variation.

Digital Metering NABERS Reporting

Opportunities are missed by not being able to understand usage in more detail. Plant and amenity upgrades are difficult to quantify. For example a facility looking to upgrade air conditioning plant that uses water will struggle to truly understand the performance and track the usage profile of the existing equipment and create a bench mark without digital metering providing automated readings every hour or half-hour. With digital metering, facility managers can understand and map the usage profile under various conditions. This data can then be used to compare to the performance specifications of any new equipment. This enables cost and sustainability benefit analysis for measurement and verification and can be used to set contractual performance level agreements of new plant and equipment.

Digital sub-metering can be used to collect further detailed data from specific plant and equipment. Private sub-metering data can be combined with private or utility provided main-meter digital data to separate out the water use data of various areas of a site or high use equipment.

Digital metering data can be provided to stakeholders automatically through FTP or APIs. This can enable automated dashboards and near-real-time tracking of water use and easy snapshots of usage at any moment in time. It can also offer remote access to data for stakeholders such as multi-site portfolio managers, BMS operators, or 3rd party consultants or suppliers with the permission of the account holder.

Many Australian organisations will only lease properties that achieve NABERS ratings. For example, the Australian government requires a minimum rating of 4.5 out of 6 stars for any office building to have a government organisation as a tenant. This is an example of how achieving higher accreditations not only improves sustainability, it can also reduce operating costs and even increase property values.

Health and Vitality Indicators

Given that water is essential for life, data on its use or lack of use can be a strong indicator of health. With the aging population and increasing life expectancies of many countries around the world, the need for elderly care is increasing. Wearable devices and other monitoring equipment to alert others of changes in behaviour or vital signs are available and digital water metering may also fit into this space of solutions.

Digital Metering Aging Population

Image Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

With respect and compliance given to privacy and security of data, duty of care, and individual’s rights and choices, it is possible to provide data-driven insights to people providing care for others. If patterns in behaviour change over time, it could give insights into physical or mental health issues. These insights could be potential changes in sleeping habits, hygiene, or eating and drinking habits.

If an elderly person or a person requiring care assistance isn’t using water at a time when they normally would, it could be a sign of a health issue, injury, absence from home, or unconsciousness. A home equipped with a digital water meter could alert residents, their carers, or family, when water use ceases for an extended period of time.

Notifications to individuals or their carers giving simple insights into water use behaviour such as no water use for an extended period can be enough to prompt a care giver to simply check in with someone and provide assistance if required.

Original article by Rian Sullings

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