Smart Water Meters Save Water and Energy, Find Leaks

Smart water meters can help water utilities and their customers conserve water, thereby saving energy.
Author: Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel

A successful pilot program initiated last year in Palm Desert, CA installed smart water meters inside homes and offered residents incentives to cut back on their water usage during peak hours of the day when electricity and typically water demands are the highest.

The study was funded by the California Energy Commission as part of the ongoing effort to explore the potential to save energy by saving water – after all, 19% of California’s electricity consumption is directly related to water use.

According to a New York Times Green Inc. post on the study:

The participants were given so-called “smart water meters” that recorded their water usage at 15-minute intervals. Crucially, the meters also enabled participants to see how much water they were using — information that is unavailable to most households.

The results were striking: at peak times, participating homeowners used less than half the amount of water as those in the control group. The homeowners’ total usage also ended up being 17 percent lower than the control group’s.

Sadly, the article doesn't describe exactly how much energy was saved through this program but it does note that the water utility's peak electricity demand was reduced. In addition to decreasing customer’s demand for water and its associated energy costs at a time when electricity demand is at its highest, the smart water meters also alerted water customers of leaks inside their home that had gone unnoticed. Again from the NYT:

More immediately, according to Ms. Figueroa, there will be an increased effort to combat leaks. In the study, 30 percent of households were found to have leaks that lasted 24 hours or more. Some of them involved a hose left running, but others were serious problems that needed fixing.

“We were surprised by the number of people with leaks, and we think this is really something we want to follow up,” Ms. Figueroa said.

I’ve blogged numerous times about the important role that smart water meters can play in reducing water and energy use by giving both utilities and consumers real-time information on their water usage. By installing smart water meters, utilities can design rate structures or other incentive programs, such as the one in Palm Desert, that encourage water conservation during times of the day when more energy intensive water supplies are needed to meet peak water demands, thereby significantly reducing energy use. Consumers can see exactly when and how much water they use, which gives them better information on how to reduce their consumption.

While the computer technology company Oracle recently released a study showing the benefits of smart water meters, the study found that most water utilities have been slow to roll out smart meters.

It is important to note that paying customers to reduce their water use to save energy (and water) during peak times is applicable to more than just residential customers. A program adopted by Idaho Power successfully reduced peak electricity demand by more than 5% in the utility’s service area by paying farmers to shut off their irrigation pumps during the afternoon.

Smart meters should be incentived through federal and state policies so that water utilities can better afford to install them and reap the multiple benefits of having real-time data on water usage. With the push for a “smart” electric grids gaining traction across the country, now is the time to make sure that our water systems don’t get left behind.

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