27 Jun 2009

Smart Meters and Smart Competition

In the comments to this post, DW writes:
On the electric side, smart grid is all the rage. Utilities are installing smart meters that can tell customers how much energy they are using in real time and what it will mean for their bill at the end of the month. I expect it will take the water industry a decade or so to catch up.
A decade may be right (I've said the same), but there are MANY people/companies coming up with smart water meter ideas. If the number talking to me is any indicator, those smart meters will be on market in the next few years.

Widespread adaption will take longer, of course, but the key driver will be the ease of installation for homeowners. If they can put in smart monitoring devices on their own, then the industry will be driven by early adopters (the 20 percent who "care"). If it's only through (monopoly) utilities, then it will take longer -- mostly because the utilities will believe the "ten years" conventional wisdom and plan accordingly :)

Bottom Line: Our water efficiency -- like all efficiency -- will improve with competition. Smart meters are one great way to bring more of that (and more information!) to a business that's traditionally been very slow to innovate.


  1. I love it when someone makes a comparison between measuring two different things and comes to a generalization about both of them.

    In terms of technology, it is much easier to get an accurate measurement in an electronic circuit than one that is dependent on a mechanical 'interface' and subject to physical limitations.

    In the case of measuring power consumption in one's home a simple device such as a 'Kill a Watt' http://www.p3international.com/products/special/P4400/P4400-CE.html is a simple plug and play device that is cheap, somewhat accurate and costs less than $30. This device measures in real-time but does not 'data log' the results. What makes home monitoring of electric usage is the simple 'plug and play' nature of the equipment. Anyone with limited knowledge can use a device like the 'Kill a Watt' in their home and get a good idea where the power (other than the lighting loads) are consumed.

    Monitoring water usage at the home is another matter. You do not get 'real time' results from a water meter. Only consumptive results over a period of time. This is due to the reason that the meter is counting the units of water that has gone through it. The other variable in the equation is how the meter is installed in the construction. Unlike the plug and play example of the 'Kill a Watt' meter (that can be placed in-line on any electrical outlet), the water meter has to be located in a section of 'free running' pipe (far from valves, elbows or bends) or the readings will be biased. In any event - putting in a measuring system like this will normally happen during new construction to be properly done.

    The only other thing I'd like to mention is how the media has made the term 'smart grid technology' to mean many things. My understanding of smart grid products have been limited to the equipment produced by Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories SEL http://www.selinc.com/ or from ABB http://www.abb.com/ or Siemens http://www2.sea.siemens.com/products/PowerDistribution/Power+Distribution.htm to name a few. Consumer products like the 'Kill a Watt' have nothing to do with grid management.

    If you don't mind me saying so.


  2. @Delber -- I sure don't! Those are useful clarifications. I was referring more to meters than to grids, and I agree that a smart waer meter's "real time" output is going to reflect use TO DATE -- not use at the moment...

  3. And Delbert/DZ don't forget the electricity smart meter is powered by what it measures.

    Water meters would need hooking up to mains or a battery and then a low power comms link like they're talking about for gas meters. Either way it's not so easy.

  4. i'm not entirely sure how "smart" a water meter has to be. the meter already shows consumption (as delbert indicates above). access to the existing meter is sometimes an issue. i live in San Diego and my meter is on the sidewalk and requires a hook to lift up the cover. some people lack the tools or the strength/ability to do so. in a submetered multifamily context, Weights and measures regs require that a meter register be placed in a "reasonable" position to be read. many installed meters do not meet this requirement and meter manufacturers created a remote register which is hardwired to the meter and has a 50 ft range so the owner can place the register in a place where residents can see how much they have used.


  5. Interesting comments. It is undeniable that *kill a watt* is easy to install. That said, smart meter technology replacement of conventional meters is as simple as turning off the city side isolation valve, opening a hose bib to drain the line, spinning two brass knuckles on say a 3/4 inch copper or 1 inch line, replacing two rubber gaskets, and sliding the same dimension meter connected to a battery pack up so the brass knuckles can thread back on. It helps if you turn the water back on at this point, and check for leaks. Granted, its not as easy as plugging into a socket, but if that matches your definition of hard.. you may want to reassess your status as a homeowner.. or hire a plumber to do it? Either way, if a meter can tell you, even email you that your home has a leak? That seems like a no brainer, from where I am sitting. Then again, I have seen what water damage can do, and what water bills cost out here on the west coast. Lets not put down a technology that could save your hard wood floors, carpets, drywall, and precious electronic equipment. Besides that, the smart meters save the utilities from rolling out a truck to read meters, or shut off systems. They can pay for themselves in that regard alone, leak costs not withstanding. But what do I know, I am no *high faluting* electrician ::sneeze:: *sparky* ::sneeze::, just a plumber who wants to prevent water damage.. =)


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