Survey Examines Manager, Consumer Take on Smart Meters, Conservation

Many water users and water providers seem to agree. Fifty-four percent of consumers who responded to an online survey said free access to their usage data would encourage them to lower water consumption while 68 percent of water utility managers responding to a telephone survey said they believe the adoption of smart meter technologies is critical.

These are a few of the findings of Oracle Utilities' survey, "Testing the Water: Smart Metering for Water Utilities," released on Jan. 11. You can read the survey by registering at this site. Oracle and O'Keeffe & Company interviewed 1,210 consumers and 302 water utility managers in the United States and Canada.

So what's the problem? Money, of course.

Although water manager respondents found smart meter technology to be beneficial for enabling leak detection (62 percent) and supplying customers with a tool to reduce water consumption (35 percent), they also said they cannot implement the technology because of:

  • a lack of cost recovery or measurable return on investment (46 percent);
  • upfront utility expenses (42 percent);
  • upfront customer expenses (23 percent); and
  • a lack of customer interest (14 percent).

Smart metering technology for water is only about 4 years old, according to Guerry Waters, vice president, Industry Strategy, Oracle Utilities. There is no track record on ROI or customary expenses. Early adopters have yet to fill the gaps found in any newly deployed technology. The survey noted that only 7 percent or 22 water managers said their operations were deploying smart meter technology now. Sixty-two percent are not currently considering a smart meter program. Waters said that regulators are skeptical and want to see more proof that smart metering is a valuable tool. "Some of that will come from the electric industry," he added.

Waters is based in Atlanta, Ga., which has been experiencing drought and recently lost access to its primary water source, Lake Lanier. He said that "In areas where there have been shortages, there is great awareness now. There are pockets of interest."

While money can be a roadblock it also can be an incentive. The survey showed that consumer respondents are motivated to conserve by incentives or rebates from the utility (67 percent) and state and federal government tax rebates (61 percent).

More than two-thirds of consumer respondents (69 percent) said they can lower their consumption. Oracle, using the consumer respondent savings estimate of 16 percent, calculated that U.S. and Canadian consumers potentially could save about 1.4 trillion gallons of water annually.

The survey also revealed a few differences between respondents in the United States and in Canada. On the question relating to customer information as a top benefit, more Canadian water managers (46 percent) than U.S. water managers (24 percent) agreed.

Waters said he could only offer speculation for the differences. "There is a lot of government control of water in Canada. They have some very readily available sources of water but there are areas that are having drought conditions," he added.

Oracle is a software application company that does smart metering business. Waters said that the company conducted the survey to determine how it can better serve all the utility industries – electric, water and gas – that it serves. The company enlisted the help of its customers in crafting the questions and expects the answers will be helpful to them as well.

Stephan Scholl, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Utilities, said the company's survey report "indicates that while water utilities realize that smart meter technologies can have a big impact on their business, there is a greater need to focus on consumer education and communication.” For more information on smart metering for water utilities, check out a September 2009 white paper from Oracle.



Early Adopter Concerns and Motivations
Top Concerns* Top Motivations**
Capital Costs  75% Internal Sustainability Initiatives  32%
Operating Costs  62% Alleviating Pressure on a Limited Resource  22%
Reliability of Technology  56% Regulatory Requirements  15%
Incremental Costs to Customers  54% Customer Demand  11%
Service Quality  50%
*Water manager respondents considering or implementing smart meter technologies selected all that applied.
**Water manager respondents considering or implementing smart meter technologies selected their organization's top motivation.

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