Could water meters address Challenges through innovation?

2018’s summer was one of the sunniest and hottest in recent times and has been classified as one of the top 5 driest for England. 

Such weather has strengthened the aspirations for a more efficient and accurate water system in the UK. The NIC has identified drought resilience as an important measurement, pointing out that due to climate change the UK is facing serious challenges along the way and the urgent need for the industry to boost supply resilience and to ensure a long-term water supply. It has been predicted that £40 billion will be the cost of relying on emergency options such as road and ship tankers over the next 30 years and £21 billion, the corresponding cost of building resilience. There is an urgent need to boost infrastructure, work on predictive maintenance and more efficient data gathering, as well as reducing leakages and water usage. Currently, 20% of mains water is currently lost each day, which amounts to almost 3 billion litres per day. 

The NIC has recommended that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should enable companies to implement compulsory metering beyond water stressed areas by the 2030s.

Water metering currently is not mandatory, and consumers can choose to install a meter. In addition, some consumers may have more accurate billing which in small cases will increase their bills, but a decree in billing is also very possible given a household consumes less than predicted. The average metered bill is lower than the average non-metered bill – the economic regulator Ofwat publishes these rates each year. 

Water companies need to have the tools in hand to reduce water consumption and be able to see and monitor more accurately. Southern Water, which serves Kent and Sussex, has already made meters compulsory due to having shortages in supply. It resulted in 16.5% consumption cut.

techUK is strongly in support of utilising technology to accurately predict usage and incentivise consumers to save water. We welcome the aspiration to amend regulations to allow all water companies to implement compulsory metering, using smart meters, by the end of 2019 and water industry should collectively be aiming to reduce leakage by 50% by 2040, rather than 2050.

This has a direct impact of helping to marshal a precious resource as well as additional environmental benefits. More ambitious targets must be set, and leakages must be addressed, using more accurate data gathering technologies and maximising on the outcomes of it such as predictive maintenance. Innovation needs to be boosted and measurements such as smart meters should be considered to create a whole network intelligence system which will inform future intelligence and data utilisation for the creation of new services.

Other recommendations from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on Regulation of the Water Industry, include:

  • Review whether the Environment Agency has the necessary powers and resources to enforce a drastic reduction in sewage overflows into rivers. 

The report closely examines the increasing supply through abstraction and water transfers; demand reduction, including metering; the performance of water competition in the sector, with a focus on the water retail market.