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Yarra Valley Water to roll out smart water meters

The move is expected to stem water losses, alert customers to possible leaks and improve the affordability of water

Australian water provider Yarra Valley Water (YVW) will be digitising its water distribution network to reduce water losses and alert consumers about water leakages amid the growing demand for water in the state of Victoria.

Sagemcom, a supplier of digital metering and energy solutions, will provide YVW with digital water meters and network sensors, as well as the Siconia smart metering software required to manage the devices.

While YVW will be the first Australian organisation to adopt the Siconia software, it is already used to manage 21 million meters in other countries, mostly in the EMEA region.

Sagemcom is best known in Australia for its broadband products such as routers, but it is the European market leader in smart electricity meters and a major supplier of smart gas meters, and is now moving into water metering.

Glenn Wilson, YVW’s general manager of service futures, said the attractions of Sagemcom’s offering include its support for multiple standard protocols, its proven ability to operate at scale with around one million meters deployed and the way that any combination of Siconia’s three layers – device management, meter data, and analytics and presentation – can be selected. YVW will use the first two in conjunction with the company’s existing analytics and presentation capabilities.

Local support was an important consideration, and Sagemcom Australasia’s energy and telecom business unit – which includes water metering – will initially be based in Melbourne, said Sagemcom energy and telecom CEO Eric Rieul, with employees covering support, sales and systems integration.

The regional support hub will be in Melbourne, and the company has other water providers in its sights.

Sagemcom’s digital water meter was developed in France, but localisation is required.

“Australian water meter standards are unique, and a number of changes are required for it to be used in Australia, including obtaining WaterMark and National Measurement Institute certifications. This also includes compliance with relevant Australian standards,” explained Rieul.

“Some of the things unique to Australia are the frequency used for communications and a purpose-built antenna, differences in the pipe threads, and the use of materials that are capable of withstanding Australian ultraviolet and temperature conditions.”

YVW ran parallel tender processes for the supply of smart meters and of the supporting software, and Sagemcom was selected for both. Having one company win both contracts is a definite benefit, Wilson observed, as it will make troubleshooting easy. Telstra’s narrowband internet of things (NB-IoT) network will be used to connect the devices.

The cost of the digital metering project between 2023 and 2028 is expected to be over A$150m. Although cost savings provided by remote meter reading are sometimes used to justify the use of smart meters, that is not the case for YVW. “Our meter reading costs are super-cheap,” said Wilson, and the communications costs will be about the same as manual reading.

Instead, the benefits will come from saving water at a time when stream flows into dams have dropped, desalination is costly and population growth is pushing up demand.

Increasing the supply of water is problematic, too. Suitable dam sites have been exhausted and indirect potable reuse is not permitted in Victoria. A new desalination plant would be expensive, but it is less costly to the economy than severe water restrictions, and is independent of rainfall.

Adopting smart metering and sensors in the network provides several opportunities to save water.

Currently, YVW customers are billed quarterly, so they can be unaware of invisible leaks for months. The new system will allow YVW to alert customers to possible leaks and atypical water usage in 48 hours. That amount of time is seen as the right balance between delivering prompt warnings and avoiding false alarms.

The state government wants people to limit their water consumption to 150 litres per day, but it is currently averaging around 159 litres.

While behavioural change is hard to lock in, Wilson said YVW is fully committed to using the data from smart meters to help customers reduce their consumption and achieving 150 litres “will make a huge impact”.

But there’s more to the project than smart meters. Somewhere between 7% and 10% of water is lost in the network of pipes that carries it from the source to consumers’ premises. Not all of that loss is due to leaks – water theft and unmetered connections such as fire hydrants are among the other causes – but YVW aims to use the technology to better identify where the losses are occurring and then assign its rectification teams to areas where they will have the most impact.

Flow meters are already installed around the network, but they will be augmented with pressure sensors built into the smart meters. Comparing current pressure profiles with those from the previous day will allow leaks to be located more accurately than they can be at present, making the job easier for a team arriving on site.

With the new system, “we can be far more responsive and accurate with our contractors”, Wilson said.

Currently, global best practice for water losses is considered to be 5%, as achieved in Tokyo, although some places, such as certain parts of the UK, suffer 20% losses.

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When complete, the project should allow YVW to achieve 5%, which will reduce the amount it pays for water by around A$10m a year. That will help with the affordability of water for customers, as well as delaying the need to increase the supply.

But that won’t be for some time.

YVW has begun the implementation of Siconia, and Wilson expects testing to begin in March 2024, with go-live in the middle of the year.

An initial 25,000 smart meters will be installed as a test in the fourth quarter of 2024, and if that is successful, approval will be sought from the YVW board and the state government to begin the full roll-out, which is expected to take around seven years.

Wilson said the plan is to “take it easy at the start”, having learned from the roll-out of smart electricity meters that it is best to proceed slowly at the outset and then ramp up after any teething problems have been addressed.

But YVW is well aware that the sooner the new meters and supporting systems are installed, the sooner the benefits will start accruing. “Now is the time to go,” Wilson said, because the technology is robust and the devices are guaranteed for up to 15 years, so “business cases can fly”.

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