For years, government and industry have neglected to place enough emphasis on smart water metering, leak detection and infrastructure efficiency.
But the intensity and length of the drought in New South Wales and Queensland, coupled with a revolution in technology, could make 2020 the year people start to pick that low-hanging fruit, says the WaterGroup’s managing director Guenter Hauber-Davidson.
“In the past, we had to rely on the public to ring to report a broken pipe, for example. But with the new breed of IoT technology and sensors, for the first time ever, utilities can monitor the vast majority of their assets, and in particular, their pipes in the ground, in a cost-effective way,” Hauber-Davidson says. “That’s a revolutionary change”.
He wasn’t surprised to hear that Sydney lost 9 per cent of its water supply to leaks in 2018/19. It’s similar around the world.
“Just because it is out of mind, it should not be out of sight. It should be completely unacceptable that 110 litres need to be
pumped into the system to get 100 litres of water to your tap.
“In some of the driest areas in NSW we are looking at reaching “Day Zero” in nine to 18 months, where they will completely run out of water. Yet, they have 30 to 40 per cent water loss. That is scandalous.”
Some water authorities are trying to change that. WaterGroup’s projects include a trunk main monitoring system to help identify leaks in SA Water’s network; a Narrowband NB-IoT enabled smart water metering pilot project with a local authority in Queensland; as well as a program to monitor some of Dubbo Regional Council’s critical pressure reducing valves as well as many shopping centres, stores and office buildings using the same technology to save water.
However, adoption has been slow, in part because water leaks are out of sight, and can therefore be easily ignored, Hauber-Davidson says.
But in terms of cost and speed of deployment, nothing else saves more water, more quickly, and at such little cost. Payback is often well under two years.
Two things still stand in the way of fast deployment. One, an entrenched view that investment in water supply infrastructure is “better” as it returns more revenue, and a lack of government leadership.
“Naturally, rolling out smart meters to everybody will be more expensive initially. To accelerate a more widespread adoption we need government assistance.
“Everybody around the world is looking at this. Populations continue to grow, the climate is becoming less predictable and less stable, meaning we face a future with a far less reliable water supply.”
This places large pressure on facility managers too. They are expected to have a good handle on water use within their sites, know about water restrictions, comply with them and quickly respond in an informed manner. “The social pressure is immense”, says Hauber-Davidson.
Smart metering is the perfect tool for that, ideally with assistance from the local water authority. “Why not go and ask them how they can help you save water?” suggests Hauber-Davidson.