Smart water grid slowly gaining momentum (and respect?)


By Neil Strother


Water is the Rodney Dangerfield of the smart grid movement. Little or no respect.  The electric utilities seem to get all the attention, and much of the money.


However, some water utility managers are altering that perception, embracing smart grid technologies as they strive to improve the efficiency of their systems - a trend that will continue through the coming years, albeit at a moderate pace compared to the more aggressive deployments among electric utilities.


Evidence of this trend continues to mount.  A few examples include:

·         Australia’s Sydney Water began deployment in early July of high-efficiency Itron meters to replace its aging stock; the three-year program will enable Sydney Water (which serves 4.6 million people) to eventually take advantage of automated and advanced metering technology.

·         In England, Thames Water is extending a smart grid trial in the town of Reading to the city of London; the utility’s commercial director, Dr. Piers Clark, says, "Smart water metering will play a critical role in helping the water industry to better manage consumption and leakage.”

·         In Charlotte, N.C., a public-private effort called Smart Water Now is taking place to measure consumption and improve efficiency; the city has partnered with Itron, Siemens, CH2M Hill and Verizon to collect information with the aim of lowering operational costs and improving sustainability.

At Pike Research we see smart meters playing a key role in this move to smarter water grids. Our worldwide forecast calls for nearly 30 million smart meters to be installed by 2017, up from 10.3 million meters last year. The annual market value of those new meters will be almost $500 million at that time.


Nonetheless, there will be reasons why the market will not soar but instead see moderate growth.  Some of the inhibitors include a risk-averse mentality among some utility managers, a lack of capital for deployments amidst sluggish economic growth, consumer pushback (as we’ve seen with smart electric meters), and a data-deluge challenge that many utilities just aren’t yet prepared to deal with.


Despite the challenges ahead, smart grid technology for water makes plenty of sense and deployments of new technology will be steady. Beyond improved metering, emerging solutions involve new sensor capabilities for better leak detection, enhanced monitoring of water quality and the ability to better detect security threats to water systems. So water won’t always have a Rodney Dangerfield vibe to it.


Neil Strother is a senior research analyst contributing to Pike Research’s Smart Grid practice, with a focus on smart metering technologies and related business practices.


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