Smart water meters seem like a wise investment for water utilities. In theory, they can reduce utility operational costs, improve the ability to detect and resolve leaks, improve anti-contamination effectiveness, and improve the speed with which water supply problems can be detected to enhance emergency restoration and management efforts. Unfortunately, water utilities have been slow to adopt the new technology.
The ROI of Smart Water Meters
Simply put, adoption has been slow because the return on investment is not there. Smart water meters can cost over 7x more than a traditional water meter (DC Water pays a whopping $180 vs. $25 for a traditional meter).
This is why only 20% of water utilities have gone smart, compared to 60% of electric utilities (although granted, electric utilities had a huge head start, and there are 50,000 water utilities in the US vs. about 3,000 electric utilities, so any penetration comparison is probably not entirely fair).
I think that water utilities will eventually pick up the pace of adoption, especially as manufacturing costs naturally decline over time. My only hope is that the adoption curve does not spread out over multiple decades, because I really like the fact that smart water meters are better at preventing catastrophic service outages, as well as restoring them, than old-fashioned analog meters. In the meantime, most water utilities should realize that dumb meters hinder emergency preparedness, and therefore they ought to budget for at least one emergency exercise or drill every year. The bottom line is that even if your meters are dumb, your people don’t have to be.