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The Emerging Smart Grid for Water (Part 2)

Following on from my first water smart grid blog the simplest area to consider is smart metering, and indeed a lot of Smart Grid ideas in this area can be transferred from the energy sector. As I have blogged before however, certain aspects do not appear to add value, such as two-way communications, as there is limited benefit in interfacing with water using devices, as the use of those which with high usage (such as toilets) are controlled by 'human factors'. Such extra functionality also impacts meter life. Value is however added by more frequent meter reads (potentially in real time with customer displays via proprietary units or PC/smartphone), fault alerts (e.g. leakage), accurate bills and more understanding by the customer of the impact of their behaviours on water usage. Customer perceptions can be further enhanced by an effective self-service portal. These benefits, coupled with suitable MDM/CRM software at the supplying company, can lead to a smarter customer experience.

A water Smart Grid however can be far more than just smart metering. Control of networks is variable around the world, typically with reasonable real time knowledge and control of water supply networks, but very limited in sewerage. However with the latest control and instrumentation technology, coupled with suitable software, real time management of networks is very possible, and there are a number of very good examples, for example Paris water source mixing and Cardiff sewerage control strategy. Such tools also allow for more proactive management of networks, and indeed performance management software can both efficiently manage risk and enable beneficial comparisons of sites, leading to significant savings and service improvements.

Such benefits will however require the use of leading edge solutions in the technology, engineering and IT areas, as well as substantial organisational changes. It is unlikely that any once company will be able to offer all of these solutions, thus effective working partnerships will need to be established. Likewise water utilities will have to instigate a substantial business change process, especially in regard of the various departments, such as operations, investment, regulation, customer service and finance, in order for the full benefits of a Smart Grid to be realised.

A comprehensive water Smart Grid is thus already possible, and will increasingly become more effective as technology improves, but it requires a change in industry attitudes, especially in regard of departments and organisations working together.


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