A Deluge of Data

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Written by: Doug Flanzer

As we settle into the 21st century, massive amounts of data have become part of our everyday lives. The global internet population is over 3 billion people and the fingerprints of every website we visit, photo we post, and item we buy expands the universe of data available in cyberspace. The average person looks at their smartphone 1,500 times per week, starting at 7:31 in the morning, and these phones can track and quantify hundreds of things about our movements and habits.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that electronic devices designed to measure our consumptive use of energy play an integral part of the way that our resources are to be managed in the future.  We have thermostats that manage your energy consumption based on your climate and personal habits; we have Energy Utilities with demand management programs for dialing down your electricity use during peak-use times; and we have a full fledged industry around home-efficiency improvements that save money, conserve energy, and reduce greenhouse gasses.

Our society is on the electricity smart meter fast track, but what about Water Meters? Doesn’t it stand to reason that the same devices are coming quickly to change the way the world manages its most precious resource? Well, the answer is “yes and no”.

For starters, there are some notable differences between a water meter and an electricity meter, not the least of which is that the electricity meter is directly connected to electricity! This abundance of available power facilitates an always-on microcomputer for high sampling frequency and high-power signal output, often from an open-air location. On the other hand, the water meter is usually banished to a concrete-enclosed subterranean location where no power is available. This means that just like your cell phone or laptop, it is subject to the inconveniences of battery life. High sampling or signal frequency can affect the operating cost of these devices, via battery replacement cycles.

So with that in mind, what about demand response, which has been such a big win for the electric utilities? It helps to take a look at the reasons behind it.  Electrons are very difficult to store but really easy to move, so on a day with record high temperatures, the utility may not be able to generate enough electricity to meet the demand, and turning down thermostats is effectively creating more supply in that exact moment in time.  Water, however, works differently. By comparison, it is very easy to store (all you need is a tank, lake, river, or pipe network), but it is very difficult to move (especially uphill)! So “demand response” in the water world is not about the “right now”, but about the long-term supply. In fact, there isn’t much pain when the supply is stressed - but when it’s gone? Ouch!

That being said, there are a lot of great reasons for smart water meters, including but not limited to: labor savings of collecting data, more accurate bills, leak detection, and greater opportunities for customer engagement. So if a Water Utility decides that Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI or smart water meters) is the best path forward, as many Electric Utilities have, what happens next? A deluge of data.

In the U.S. roughly 85% of the Water Utilities are municipal organizations (i.e., cities or county districts) and about 15% are privately owned corporations. And there are approximately 54,000 of them throughout the country!  While Water Utilities are excellent at providing reliable and safe drinking water to our communities, are all of them ready  to store terabytes of meter data for meaningful analysis and action? Well, that’s where WaterSmart can help. We love data. We act like a virtual reservoir helping utilities and their customers use water more efficiently so that we can stretch critical supplies in an era when global climate change and population growth is stressing our decades old water sources and infrastructure.

While smart water meters are likely to bring substantial benefits to both utilities and end-users, it’s going to take a data reservoir to manage the flood of information coming from the nations 100 million water meters. To learn more about how we help utilities and residential households save money and water, just take a look at our engagement program video or request a demonstration of our technology platform.

Editorial smart meter water meter advanced metering infrastructure ami demand response big data