Water Metering Trends

Water Metering Trends by Naem A. Saleh

Naem A. Saleh

 

 

Mr Saleh is a water utility management specialist based in Jordan with over 25 years of experience. He has an extensive knowledge of water metering trends, has presented at Arab Water Week and held posts which include general manager of the Aqaba Water Company. He is currently a deputy chief of party at a USAID funded project implemented by Engicon, a multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy firm based in Amman.


The following questions were discussed:

 

  1. Which customer metering technologies would you recommend that are particularly robust e.g. can withstand changing conditions like interrupted supply?
  2. The fairness of prepaid meters in poorer areas is debatable. Can you describe the pros and cons of installing prepaid meters in low income sectors (e.g. Amman)?
  3. If a utility or municipality is looking for a good source of current information on customer or bulk metering where should they go? Are there associations like the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association or the International Water Association (IWA) that provide resources or publications in which knowledge is shared?
  4. What type of equipment is required for a utility or a municipality to test, calibrate and repair their customer’s meters?
  5. What are the current trends in bulk metering?

1. Which customer metering technologies would you recommend that are particularly robust e.g. can withstand changing conditions like interrupted supply?

One must be aware that conditions vary across different regions and, therefore, it is often beneficial to consider more than one type of metering technology. An interrupted supply, in particular, affects the type of the meter which should be considered.

Some of the factors to examine before arriving at a decision include the customer group nature; demographic, cultural and economic, and the tariff structure applied. For instance, in communities where there are cases of meter tampering, the type of meter utilised would have to take such manipulation into consideration. Also, in countries where the water price rate is too low, high-tech meters would not be financially feasible.

It is also imperative to understand the network hydraulics factors before deciding on the type of meter. Meters can be affected by air in the system, water availability at the source and pressure shocks. In cases where these factors are a problem an electronic device, such as an ultrasonic or electromagnetic meter, should be considered. These types of meters are much less affected by water availability, bubbles in the water, pressure surges or even source water quality compared to their mechanical counterparts.

Therefore, for regions with these issues, the feasibility of using electronic meters should be considered. However, this type of meter requires a larger capital investment and thus a feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis should be carried out on a case-by-case basis. Some experts caution that they are not the best solution and that mechanical meters (single or multi-jet) should be considered. This is perhaps in reference to districts that have few issues with air bubbles or water hammer. In areas such as Jordan, electronic meters are often the best solution to deal with intermittent supply and further benefits include the additional features which these ‘smart’ electronic meters boast.
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2. The fairness of prepaid meters in poorer areas is debatable. Can you describe the pros and cons of installing prepaid meters in low income sectors (e.g. Amman)?

One can draw parallels between pre-paid water meters and pre-paid airtime on mobile telecommunication networks. In the Jordanian community, people have shown a preference for prepaid mobile phone lines over post-paid ones. Constituents of low income areas are disinclined to accumulate large post-paid bills thus opting for easy to manage pre-paid services.

However, it may be argued that water is a basic human need. A person who has exhausted their credits cannot have their water cut off without endangering their hygiene and consequently their health. The main objective of the water industry is to provide safe water, for the purposes of consumption and personal hygiene, to all people irrespective of their income bracket.

This issue can be partly resolved by utilising newer technologies such as smart meters. Such a meter could calculate the quantity of water used and, when it reaches a certain amount, a warning could be sent to the customer. Smart meters provide data that can help to understand usage patterns especially in underprivileged communities. The data collected over time makes it conceivable for utilities to have centrally operated control centres where decisions to cut off water are made using computer driven decision matrices or, in critical cases, a human decision maker.

The elements discussed above could relieve some of the apprehension over the use of prepaid metering. However, water is unique, and usage is difficult to predict and influenced by many factors e.g. a water leak at a home could cause the depletion of credit in a very short period. There is a strong case against pre-paid water metering because of the human impact when water is cut off. The case for smart metering could include the collection of useful data and the effective control of bill collection.
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3. If a utility or municipality is looking for a good source of current information on customer or bulk metering where should they go? Are there associations like the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association or the International Water Association (IWA) that provide resources or publications in which knowledge is shared?

Unfortunately, in the water industry, there is no single source where utilities can find information or even standards on meters technology options and case studies. Search engines provide numerous articles most of which are supplied by the manufacturers of the various meters. Each manufacturer is promoting their own meter as the best solution. Thus, in order to get a balanced view, a number of articles need to be perused in order to find the best solution for the particular problem.

The IWA has made an effort to provide information and organize knowledge sharing and case studies, but the organisation efficiency was minimal for two reasons:

    1. membership is not openly available to all who work in the water industry, and
    2. the current material consists mostly of personal anecdotes.

There is a lack of scientific knowledge sharing and few guidelines for those attempting to design a solution for a specific goal. The IWA needs to take up this role and provide a knowledge database with guidelines and standards.
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4. What type of equipment is required for a utility or a municipality to test, calibrate and repair their customer’s meters?

Equipment varies depending on the type of meter in use but, usually, the device’s manufacturer will be able to supply parts and calibration tools as well as carry out or train on repairs.

Mechanical meters require a comparison to be done between the meter reading and the quantity of water actually flowing past in order to determine if the meter is defective or in need of calibration. This process needs to invest in building a meter testing device which costs around $30k – $50k, because of the initial set-up cost.

Electronic meters, on the other hand, generally come with the calibration apparatus and it is supplied by the manufacturer together with the purchased meters. When purchasing such meters, it is best to add training of staff to the tender. Calibration and testing can then be carried out internally by the utilities. Devices which self-calibrate are available for bigger diameter meters (over 100mm) but, up to my knowledge, self-calibrating customer meters are rare.
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5. What are the current trends in bulk metering?

One of the latest metering trends can be demonstrated using the example of a water system which was upgraded in Aqaba, Jordan.

The system was initially run by Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) which separately controlled a distribution network and a wastewater network. The first phase was to hydraulically model the water and wastewater networks so that a link between hydraulic modelling software server to the Supervisory, Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) server would be facilitated for real-time viewing of issues* or incidents within the network. The second phase, adopting with the Internet of Things (IoT) growth and maturity, involved the rollout of smart meters for consumers. This not only did benefit the customer but also the Aqaba Water utility. The meters provide flow indications at specific reference points which can help with leak detection. The smart meter’s information can also be fed back to a central server within the data centre which then provides a more granular perspective from which to control the whole system. A well-controlled system improves service, saves water, saves energy and saves effort.

Another new trend is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in control systems which has been introduced in places such as Melbourne, the Netherlands and San Diego. The water industry is a feasible place to make use of such technology in order to control the high percentages of physical losses and to manage demand.
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