The City of Santa Fe recently chose Badger Meter’s BEACON smart water meter solution, for full installation across all their water meter endpoints, including both residential and commercial customers. The foundation for the project is a cellular-enabled smart meter, which can be installed and immediately used for the utility’s smart water network applications. The contract calls for approximately 35,000 smart meters to be installed, making it the single implementation of cellular machine-to-machine (M2M) technology in the water utility sector worldwide, according to IHS Inc. the global source of critical information and insight. By 2020 approximately 600 thousand cellular-enabled smart water meters will be shipped to the North American market annually.
According to the IHS publication, The Smart Water Meter Intelligence Service, in the past five years, telecom providers in North America have been altering their business plans to target critical infrastructure. In aligning with the smart grid, smart utility and smart cities movements, telecom providers have dramatically lowered rates, while investing in partnerships with various technology vendors targeting these industries. While market development for cellular adoption in utilities has occurred, it has been primarily in backhaul applications, whereby the cellular modem is essentially the last leg of a mainly utility-owned network, and not in the actual smart meters. So far projects of this scale have only been built for electric utilities, whereby devices are inductively powered and therefore do not have battery life concerns.
“While the electricity space and the smart grid continues to dominate industry news, as it relates to the cellular M2M opportunity, it’s exciting to see the water utility space leap forward,” said Michael Markides, director of the Smart Utility Infrastructure Group at IHS. “Water utilities in North America are under pressure to improve operations, increase conservation and enhance customer service; however, in many instances they lack the capital, expertise and business model required to effectively implement new technologies.”
IHS anticipates a strong market for cellular-enabled smart meters in the coming years for several reasons. First, cellular smart water meters are essentially plug-and-play devices that require no additional network infrastructure, and the IT network communications elements used in the water meters can also be used for power plants and other utilities. In addition, smart meters have shorter lifetime expectancies than traditional meters to faster replacement cycles. Finally, advances in battery management technology are making the investment in cellular smart water meters easier to justify.
The city of Santa Fe has a unique set of needs – from water scarcity, to a challenging geography – which make installing cellular smart water meters attractive. “As you know Santa Fe has some of the highest water rates in the country,” said Santa Fe’s Public utility director Nick Schiavo, “In addition, our city has a challenging terrain, which often makes communication difficult, so using the existing cellular infrastructure for our meters was very attractive. With the rising cost of water, our customers need an improved view of their consumption, and the smart meter data allows us to immediately notify our customers about possible leaks.”
Water utilities in North America are being challenged to improve their customer service and curb non-revenue water losses, all within an environment of economic uncertainty and flat or declining budgets. “The advantages of installing smart water meters continues to become more and more clear to utilities in North America,” Markides said. “Even if the expectations for the meter lifetime change, there are simply too many benefits to ignore.”
Smart water meters already make up the majority of total water meter shipments in North America, but they comprise less than half of the installed base. There is available market for smart water meters, and many technologies will be used to facilitate communications; however, meters relying on cellular are expected grow more rapidly than other technologies, at least for the foreseeable future.
“Vendors in the smart meter and cellular supply chain, as well as telecom providers, need to understand there are some fifty to sixty thousand water utilities in North America,” Markides said. “Almost all of them are municipally run and operate in much the same manner, while facing many of the same problems, so the opportunity to scale this technology is strong.”