Smarter water metering

by Steve Leigh, Managing Director of Groundbreaker Systems. Steve is a Fellow of the Institute of Water and winner of the Home Builder Federation’s ‘Utility Individual of the Year’ in 2016 and his company Groundbreaker Systems won the HBF’s ‘Utility Company of the Year’ award in 2018.

Steve had worked for Anglian Water for 20 years in various roles including Developer Services Manager and Key Accounts Manager before starting his own company Groundbreaker Systems in 1999. Since then, he and his team have brought innovative and cost effective solutions to the water and construction industries.

Water metering is now generally accepted as being the best and fairest way of measuring consumption and identifying wastage, but problems are now being encountered by the UK Water Industry in that the traditional home for a water meter - the hole in the ground is by far the worst place for a smart water meter which requires a suitable platform to be able to operate effectively.

With the increasing prevalence of external drivers such as in-home displays or on the ubiquitous ‘App’, it is essential that not only are systems accessible for remote reading, but also accessible for ‘eyeball’ reading and offer the safest and best location for the water meter and ancillary equipment.

Traditionally, water meters have been located underground at the boundary of a property, but with the cost of maintenance of apparatus in the public highway, this is clearly not an option. Neither is locating a water meter in a hole in someone’s garden an option either, as depending on ground conditions and local geography, the range from a water meter so located could be as little as 2.0m!

When you compare this with the potential range of a smart meter in a surface mounted box of over 2,000m by line of sight, the argument for apparatus underground just doesn’t stack up. As further evidence just look at gas and electricity meter boxes, both of which are now well out of the ground.

Following the recent determination by OFWAT, the Water Regulator, about connection charges for water services (OFW-0016493 13/02/17) it is clear that not only does a surface mounted water meter offer the best possible location for a smart meter; it should also offer the cheapest possible solution to a developer installing a water service - the appeal to a water company should be a virtually maintenance free and leak free asset that will last for over 50 years.

In practical terms, it is well established that polyethylene pipe is leak free - but to cut it, just to add in apparatus that has a poor maintenance record, does noting but add potential leak paths, costs and wastage. For example, how many times do you walk down a footpath and see water coming out of a stop tap, which in winter will freeze to become yet another avoidable hazard?

It is interesting to note that the gas industry quite rightly which has a zero policy in regard to leakage, will always try to avoid jointing a pipe; whereas for


water it would appear that the old failing practices of inserting multiple joints on water supply pipes is still common practice.

If even more business drivers were needed, with water being a scarce commodity in certain areas of the country, leaking pipes are a major drain on resources. It is now established that the UK Water Industry accepts that up to 25% of treated water leaks from its water mains and services every year, this equates to 120 TONNES of carbon which is valued at around £9.5m per DAY!, all of which invariably has to be borne by the consumer in their bills.

About a quarter of this leakage emanates from (unmeasured) private water service pipes (source: Society for the Environment). It is therefore clear that the installation of ‘old technology’ such as stop taps, valves and meters in the footpath is the last thing that the water industry should be doing - especially when a joint can cost the same as up to 40m of PE pipe!

As pointed out in various discussion papers and debates, it is evident that street furniture has had its day. Organisations such as the Home Builders Federation who have published a ‘best practice’ guideline in conjunction with Water UK, clearly favour designing out street furniture and moving to a point where all three major utilities are co-located on the face of a dwelling.

The ultimate goal of such action would be to ensure that the ‘home hub’ in the smarter home is available to interface with other smart apparatus - managing and reporting on energy usage, remote control of apparatus including white goods, accurate billing and payment for services received.

In summary, if you had a clean sheet of paper to design a water supply system for the 21st Century with all the technology which is becoming available via the digital revolution, would you choose to bury your cash register in the least accessible position possible, that adds potential leak paths, gives poor access and leaves a trip hazard in the public highway?

The only realistic way forward is to move to surface mounted meter boxes that give an excellent signal for remote data capture and asset management, the additional benefit being that such apparatus can be installed at any time during the construction of a building - from over site to plumbers second fix - making it the ideal platform for modular homes (as left hand image).

TEL: 01379 741993 15


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