It was only a matter of time before IoT technology infiltrated water management. Humans have long been improving the process of collecting, sanitizing, distributing, and disposing of water in their communities. From brewing our morning coffee to washing our hands, we are lucky enough to have clean water readily available in pretty much any building. However, other than begrudgingly paying our bills each month, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the systems and companies in place that enable us to have reliable access to such a vital resource.
Public water companies first appeared a few centuries ago, but technology has continued to develop to address various needs of water utility companies. A device many home and business owners are familiar with is the water meter; first developed in the 1850s, water meters now use a variety of mechanical and non-mechanical systems to measure and quantify the flow rate and amount of water in a system.
Water meters serve utility companies (and consumers) in some of the following ways:
At the end of the day, utility companies are in the business of making money. Without water meters enabling them to track their water delivery systems, water companies are susceptible to undercharging customers and being blindsided by costly system failures.
While utility companies understand the power of tracking water usage metrics, it hasn’t always been easy to collect this data from water meters in a timely and scalable manner. Even with recent advancements, which we’ll get into shortly, utility companies still employ those commonly called “Meter Readers” to physically go and collect meter data from individual properties. In addition to being extremely tedious and costly, there are other pitfalls to this system:
In an age where you can unlock your front door from your phone and automate your basic toiletry purchases to appear on your doorstep every month, this just doesn’t feel right. However, attempts to digitize this process have not yielded a perfect result. Previous solutions, often referred to as Advanced Metering Infrastructures (AMIs), have struggled to reliably deliver large quantities of data, lack intuitive interfaces that make the data useful, and cost far too much to deploy at scale.
The power in an Internet of Things solution is in its ability to collect, analyze, and distribute data in a way that no technology has before. This perfectly aligns with the goals of a water utility company: collect data about the amount and rate of water they distribute, analyze total usage and other trends, and distribute the data internally as well as to their customers. A solution can offer the following capabilities and benefits:
These are just a few of the ways you can directly improve the current process of monitoring and servicing water systems, but layering additional sensors and technology to capture previously inaccessible data can yield further, undiscovered benefits.
To build out an intelligent water meter management solution, you’ll first need to figure out what data you want to collect. This will manifest itself as the sensors you’ll want to integrate. An obvious one would be a flow meter to quantifying the amount of water flowing through your system. However, you may want to integrate other sensors to allow you to monitor other parameters. Additionally, you may want to use the data from these sensors to control your system. For example, you may use a valve actuator to cut-off water supply in critical conditions. The sensors and actuators you choose will ultimately depend on your specific use case, battery life, installation needs, and cost.
The next piece of this puzzle is connectivity. Connecting your sensors to the internet will allow you to monitor and control your entire system of meters, sensors, and actuators remotely. There is a range of connectivity options in the Internet of Things, but a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) is the best choice for monitoring a large system of individual sensors that is optimized for cost and battery life.
Within LPWAN, there are a number of options including NB-IoT, LTE-M, LoRA, and Nanosatellites. Again, the best choice will depend on the specific use case.
Lastly, you will need a well-designed mobile or web application that enables people to interact with the system in an intuitive and useful way. Whether you want to automate billing or allow residents to check their water consumption from their phones, the interface brings powerful insights and is invaluable for the control of your system.