Metering is an important aspect of water management. The absence of meters has been a root cause of several issues such as high non-revenue water, unchecked leakages and overflows, and unauthorised and reckless water consumption. However, in the past five-six years, with the growing level of water stress in the country, metering practices have received greater attention.
Several water utilities are working towards increasing their metered network to monitor water consumption, reduce water losses and increase revenue collection. Besides, with the advancements in technology and internet applications, smart metering solutions have also emerged. Smart water meters are helping utilities in charging users on their actual consumption as well as promoting water conservation. Government initiatives such as the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) are also playing a crucial role in driving the adoption of smart meters across cities. Moreover in the challenging times of COVID-19, when door-to-door meter reading has become difficult, the use of smart meters is allowing the utilities to gauge water consumption remotely and ensure service continuity.
Experience so far
Several water utilities in the country are working towards strengthening their metering infrastructure to improve billing and collection practices and reduce water losses. Further, many urban local bodies (ULBs) are aiming to achieve 100 per cent metering of water connections. Besides, the deployment of smart water meters such as automatic meter readers (AMRs), advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), ultrasonic flow meters and electromagnetic meters is gradually gaining traction as an effective means of ensuring judicious water use.
Currently, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has around 2.5 million water connections, of which it is able to bill 1.6 million connections on the basis of actual meter readings. The rest of the connections are either unmetered or have defective meters that need to replaced. In terms of water supply, DJB is billing for around 500 million gallons per day of water that accounts for around 55 per cent of the total water supplied. While the utility is mostly using mechanical meters at present, around 210,000 AMR meters were procured in 2014-15 and are being installed in selected areas. As per DJB’s practice, customers can either request the board to install the meters after paying the necessary fees or they can buy and install meters based on the specifications provided by DJB. Recently, the utility has also utilised mobile tablets to capture meter readings and generate on-the-spot bills. Besides, consumers can also get their bills generated themselves by sending pictures of the meter reading through DJB’s mobile app.
In the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) area, all water connections are metered. However, at present, only mechanical meters are being used. The NDMC aims to replace conventional meters for all 24,000 connections with AMI meters as part of the 24×7 Water Supply Project that is being implemented under the SCM. AMI is an integrated system of smart meters that captures consumption data remotely on a real-time basis. The consumption data is transferred from the meter to the utility using GPRS technology or radio waves for billing and analysis. The NDMC is likely to invite tenders for smart meters by the end of 2020 or early next year.
The Kerala Water Authority (KWA) has around 3.6 million water connections. All the connections are metered and the utility relies on mechanical multijet meters to measure consumption. In case the meters are found to be faulty, they need to be replaced or repaired by the consumers within 30 days, at their own cost, with the concurrence of KWA. If the consumers fail to do so, a surcharge is levied after expiry of the notice period. Thus, the authority is able to maintain the level of non-functional meters at below 5 per cent and improve its revenue collection. The authority is also planning to introduce smart meters for bulk consumers whose consumption levels are 500 kilolitres and above, under government initiatives such as the SCM and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. However, it is yet to decide the technology for the meters.
The city of Pune is also adopting smart meters in a big way to ensure continuous water supply and significantly reduce losses. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is planning to install 325,000 AMR meters across the city. So far, the civic agency has installed a total of 11,000 water meters. The PMC is also working towards the integration of meters with its billing system. The digital meters are expected to help the PMC in saving on its water and electricity costs. Besides, the meters procured by the PMC also feature a reverse flow alarm that will alert the utility in case of a consistent backward flow, thus reducing the possibility of water contamination.
In the area under the PimpriChinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), there are 140,000 household meters and around 13,000 commercial meters at present. All the installed meters are mechanical meters which were deployed during the implementation of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. The PCMC is planning to replace these meters with AMR/AMI meters for bulk consumers such as housing societies, under the SCM. Moreover, it also aims to adopt LoRa WAN technology for smart meters that enables collection of real-time data over long distances.
The Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation, under the 24×7 water supply project, is also planning to replace mechanical meters in the city. The project area comprises a total of 150,000 household water connections. The utility is, however, still considering which metering technology to deploy. A trial run with 50 electromagnetic meters is currently under way.
Key issues and challenges
The adoption of smart water meters in the country has been limited so far. Most utilities continue to rely on conventional meters due to the challenges faced in the deployment of smart metering technologies. A major impediment is public resistance. In most cities, the cost of installation and repair of meters is borne by the consumers. With higher costs and few directly visible benefits, smart meters are often not readily accepted by consumers.
Another issue is the dependence of utilities on service providers for the communication technology to be used. In the absence of in-house capacity, utilities are completely dependent on service providers for creation of the network. Further, utilities may also face problems in the integration of new meters with existing billing systems. Other bottlenecks include the intermittent nature of water supply, low flow rates and the presence of dust particles in water that can affect the efficiency of smart meters.
With growing stress on the country’s finite water resources, it has become essential for utilities to improve their network management by building a robust metering infrastructure. Efficient metering practices can help utilities reduce water losses and improve their financial health. Besides, the deployment of smart metering solutions can provide them with real-time and reliable consumption data. This data can be leveraged to understand consumption patterns and promote judicious water use. Currently, the deployment of smart meters is still at a nascent stage with only a few cities going ahead with their implementation. Issues such as high costs, public resistance, and difficulties in integration systems have affected their adoption. Going forward, increasing private participation, building financial and technical capabilities of ULBs and rising consumer awareness are expected to drive the use of smart metering technologies in the country.