Smart Meters and Open Data to Be the Focus of U.K. Water Companies

In separate actions, the UK government and the water regulator Ofwat have called for the accelerated installation of smart meters and the use of open data.

The call by the Environment Agency, an executive non-departmental public body of the UK government, is in response to the water companies’ draft water resources management plans, with what the Agency describes as a “crucial” need for demand reductions, particularly in the short term but also longer-term towards 2050.

The Environment Act 2021 sets a target to reduce the use of public water supply in England per head of population by 20% by 2037-38 from the 2019-20 baseline.

The current draft water resources plans would deliver a 17% reduction in water use per person by this time in England.

Moreover, the scale of the challenge increases with time as by 2050 the Agency estimates a shortfall of approximately 4,000Ml/day of water between the water supplies available and the expected demand.

While new water resource options are expected to account for about 60% of the demand in 2050, the majority of the remainder is envisaged through savings on the demand side approximately equally between customer options such as smart metering and distribution options such as leakage reduction.

Currently, approximately 60% of household properties are metered in England, of which about 14% are smart, and are read on average at most twice per year.

This is limiting understanding of household water use, the Agency says, asking water companies to stop installing these types of meters and instead accelerate the rollout of smart meters.

In particular, all water companies are expected to install smart meters from 2025 and to replace the current basic meter stock.

Smart meters also are expected to be rolled out to business users. A 9% reduction in business water consumption by 2037-38 from 2019-20 levels is sought, but currently the draft plans achieve a reduction of only 1.8%, the Agency says.

The draft water resources management plans have the household metering penetration in England reaching over 90% with 65% smart metered by 2050.

With 90% of businesses already metered, the smart metering is projected to reach 35% by 2050.

Overall the government is asking for a reduction in per capita consumption to 110l/person/day by 2050 as well as a 50% reduction in leakage.

Water companies open data

In a separate action, Ofwat has called on the UK water companies to take immediate actions to unleash the benefits of open data.

Reporting demand for data from a range of stakeholders, Ofwat has indicated that the companies are expected to identify priority data sets for release and to review datasets that have so far only been shared with limited groups or are not in machine-readable format and take steps to make them accessible and/or available.

The companies also should develop open data roadmaps and an open data culture within their organisations and should actively engage with data users especially to identify priority datasets and to improve the quality of data release.

In this context industry-wide collaboration would be helpful for the development of data portals, the facilitation of knowledge sharing and development of common standards that enhance interoperability.

“We are challenging companies to show proactive leadership and go further and faster to open up their data,” says Ofwat Chief Operating Officer, Lisa Commane.

“Learning from other sectors shows that as well as having established data infrastructure, companies must embed a stronger data culture, bring capability and skills into the sector and improve collaboration to speed up delivery.”

Ofwat reports increasing user demand for water sector data from stakeholders including environmental NGOs, citizen scientists, the public, government and supply chain companies who see opportunities to problem solve.

In a March report, the House of Lords also called for water companies to take more action to provide open data on the environmental performance of their wastewater network and treatment works.

Ofwat has indicated its intention to develop a licence condition obligating the companies to deliver on the open data challenge and envisages a step change over the next 18 months.

The industry open data delivery roadmap is due for publication in October.

– Jonathan Spencer Jones, Smart Energy International

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