One of the UK’s biggest water companies, Severn Trent Water, has started a £20 million Internet of Things (IoT) rollout of smart water meters across Coventry, with a planned total of 157,000 installations by the end of March 2025.
The aim is to gain real-time information of both customer water use to make sure billing is always as accurate as possible, as well as helping to curb the problem of water leaks across its physical network. The timeline for the project aligns with a cycle in the UK water sector called AMP (Asset Management Period), a five-year agreement between water companies and the industry regulator on pricing and investment commitments.
The project is also part of Severn Trent Water’s already announced £566 million ‘Green Recovery’ program, which also involves the replacement of lead pipes in 25,000 homes as well as other measures.
The company, which provides water services to 3.7 million properties within the Midlands, has also commissioned a new large-scale, carrier-grade LoRaWAN (long range wide area) communications network to support the IoT application.
Vendors providing the equipment for the project are UK-based smart city infrastructure provider Connexin and a specialist smart meter manufacturer, US supplier Itron.
A role to play
Anthony Hickinbottom, Green Recovery Project Lead at the utility, explains the background to the initiative:
Our mission is to take care of one of life's essentials, which of course is customer water supply, a precious resource to us and our users. So, we've got a responsibility to ensure we support the communities within our region. This project is therefore about helping us support customers with how they use water and maybe help them use it more wisely going forward. We also see smart metering as having a role to play in helping us think around leakage, as well as looking after the environment.
Metering is common in the water industry, but that typically means a physical site visit or a drive by to gather telematic information twice a year, Hickinbottom says. And while smart metering is now commonplace in the energy industry, it is less common in the water sector, with this being his organization’s first foray into the area.
The first meters were physically put into the ground earlier this month, he says, after a set-up phase of some four months. Part of that set-up was deciding the best areas in the company’s catchment for IoT, Hickinbottom says:
Coventry and Warwickshire were picked for various reasons such as their geographical position in terms of property density, which helps when it comes to smart metering. Equally as well, we can get useful insights into customer demographics within that area and how smart metering may impact them.
There is also an aspect of a full mix of urban, extra-urban and rural properties and so provisioning the right data communications network to best service properties and customers within those areas.
Commercial negotiations and selection also, of course, took place in that time frame, Hickinbottom explains:
We have run some small trials and smart metering space over the last few years to get a feel for what smart metering means and the various solutions out there. We’ve also engaged with lots of our peers within the water industry around the activities they've done within smart metering.
We also had to look at it from a Severn Trent technology perspective in terms of what it means for us to embed this new way of working and this new information that's going to present itself across the customer journey, as well as which of our business processes will be impacted by smart metering, then finally mobilizing the program accordingly.
In practice, the system will encompass meter units at the boundary of a customer property which will connect to the data communications network, transmitting data as a daily payload from the meter to the network.
This data will then be ingested into Severn Trent Water systems to analyze water usage within our network so planners will have a true picture of how much water it puts into the network to service customers, who are a mixture of households and business and public sector users. A key deliverable will be a new level of detail of how much actually makes it to its proper, paid-for destination.
Saving the customer money
That doesn’t always mean water that gets lost in the field to damaged or faulty equipment, says Hickebottom:
What we don't always necessarily know, or certainly don't at the level of detail this will allow us have, is how much of that water comes out of our network through leakage on our pipes, or our trunk mains but it is also what we call internal plumbing losses - if a customer’s got a leaky toilet or tap that they can never quite turn off that's what we catalog as internal plumbing losses, which we can now alert them to.
This will help customers, he said, by the company being able to tell them if their consumption is unusual for the size of their habitation versus equivalent properties. That could lead to them saving money, but it will also help Severn Water economize as it would know more precisely what amounts of water it needs to transport, as well as potentially save on field work trying to find and repair compromised infrastructure. According to Hickinbottom:
Cutting down on leaks ultimately reduces our carbon footprint, And if we can obtain reads remotely, it means we'll have fewer vans out on the street and can then get the guys to focus on other value-added activities such as fixing leaks or working with customers to optimize their consumption.
In the next six months Hickinbottom and his team will be looking for completion of the IoT data network, as at least 30,000 meters in the ground transmitting data to Severn Trent over LoRaWAN is the first target.