Developing Smart Water Networks Across Europe

The UK government is looking to complete a nationwide roll-out of smart-meters by 2019. However, the smart metering mandate is currently only scoped to cover the energy sector consisting of electricity and gas. Andy Slater argues that why this should cover water and how smart water networks can alleviate leakages and the threat of water shortages.

At the start of 2011, the European Commission published documentation entitled “Smart Grids: from Innovation to Deployment.” In this the Commission describes the benefits of smart metering and smart grids and says that the smart grid must be developed if the EU is to meet its energy and environmental policy goals. In European and US markets it has been shown that smart metering is but a part of creating the wider smart grid.

The Smart Grid for water value chain is evolving. As with energy, the greatest business gains for water utilities will be in the development of integrated information from within the water distribution network as well as from smart meters. With the wide range of challenges facing the industry a smart water network, or a smart grid for water, is a key tool in addressing these pressures.

Smart water technology enables better management of the water network, meaning leakages, supply interruptions and uncontrolled discharges are fewer, helping combat any potential water shortage and protecting the environment.

Through the creation of a smart water network, water companies can monitor and control pressure, flow rates, levels, water quality, detect and locate leakages, and reduce instances of bursts on the network. This helps them meet the increasing economic and environmental demands being placed on them.

Technology options

Water and energy utilities are interdependent with each other, with typically up to 20% of operating costs for a water utility directly related to the cost of buying electricity to pump water. Often they are one of the biggest consumers of electricity in the local area. As they often buy energy at the half hour rate they are sensitive to time of day peaks in demand, so it doesn’t help that the peak demand for water occurs at the same time as the peak demand for electricity – hence the highest price.

With rising prices making electricity an increasingly expensive factor in the cost of water supply, the combination of smart metering with time-of-day tariffs can encourage customers to move their discretionary and often high volume water use (sprinklers, filling swimming pools, etc.) to non-peak times. Water utilities are now finding that near real-time information from their distribution networks goes beyond meter reading. Intelligence can be delivered that helps them reduce costs, fix leakages, task field crews more effectively and helps transform their daily operations from a reactive to proactive nature. This is the business driver behind the smart water network concept.

Smart water networks consist of the following five layers:

  1. Physical layer – Physical elements enabling the distribution and delivery of water in the network, for example; pipes, pumps, valves, pressure reducing valves, reservoirs and delivery endpoints.
  2. Sensing and control – Equipment and sensors that measure parameters of the water delivery and distribution such as flow (metering), pressure, water quality, reservoir levels, temperature, acoustic information. Remote controlled devices to operate the network including pumps, valves, pressure reducers.
  3. Collection and communication – Discrete data point collection, transmission and storage, such as AMI, data loggers, SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), other technologies relating to data transfer.
  4. Data management and display – Centralisation of data from different sources; SCADA dashboard systems, GIS or network scheme visualisation tools, control room systems, water balance applications.
  5. Data fusion and analysis – Derive processed information or knowledge through raw data including; hydraulic modelling systems, network infrastructure monitoring, smart pressure management, smart pumping or energy optimisation systems.

Through the creation of a smart water network, water companies can monitor and control pressure, flow rates, levels, water quality, detect and locate leakages and reduce instances of bursts on the network. In terms of communication, two-way long range radio systems have been designed for utilities to support Smart Metering and Smart Grid applications. When combined with smart grid controllers and sensors in the networks and effective head-end software a complete solution can be delivered to an operations centre.

For example, long range radio is currently on trial in Reading (see box out) in the UK, covering around 200,000 homes across 80 square kilometres. The network in Reading is being utilised by smart metering, water and grid stakeholders with very positive early results and proven wide coverage and connectivity in hard to reach places.

Moving forward

We know that populations are growing and that they are gravitating to urban areas. This will place more and more pressure on water networks in the years to come. High energy costs associated with water supply, the potential impact of climate change on water scarcity and increased consumption resulting from improving living standards will add to the challenge. It is clear that we need a more sustainable way of delivering water resources.

Smart water meter trial in LONDON

SmartReach, a collaboration of Arqiva, BT, BAE Systems Detica and Sensus for smart metering communications in Great Britain, has extended its smart meter and smart grid trial in the Reading area to include London.

The SmartReach solution has been used in the Reading trial to demonstrate the suitability of a long-range radio based communications network for communicating with water meters.The trial extension is hoped to enable utility Thames Water to assess the performance of the communications system from locations with different housing stock and difficult to reach, underground meter locations.

Dr Piers Clark, commercial director at Thames Water, said: “Based on the current trial with SmartReach in Reading, we believe that long-range radio offers a simple, quick, non-obtrusive and efficient means of building a Smart Water Meter network. The system promises far more available data on water flows that will help Thames Water to manage consumer demand and pinpoint leakages.”

Smart water networks are an important part of the solution to these challenges. It’s therefore crucial that the government and all other appropriate stakeholders give a lead to the industry and look beyond just smart metering, to establish a smart grid for water. This means ensuring the most appropriate technologies are chosen for national projects so that the benefits can be realised by all utilities, including water.

Author’s note: Andy Slater is director for Sensus. For more information, please email

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