Getting a SigSense for non-urban water metering

The NSW government created a new system to better manage non-urban water resources in NSW. Sigsense and Kallipr have joined forces to support this initiative to provide a cost-effective alternative for water licence holders to achieve regulatory compliance.

The NSW government created a new system to better manage non-urban water resources in NSW. Sigsense and Kallipr have joined forces to support this initiative to provide a cost-effective alternative for water licence holders to achieve regulatory compliance.

In 2018, the NSW government introduced new regulations and legislation. It required telemetry devices to be installed at water extraction points in rural areas. Telemetry allows the government and the landowners to better monitor and manage water usage.

These legislative changes aimed to enhance transparency, improve compliance, support sustainable water management, and build public trust in managing water resources. But to achieve these outcomes, the framework required the market to innovate and provide telemetry that met the government’s requirements around data quality, security, and compliance with regulatory requirements – at a price that made sense.

This is where SigSense stepped in. Sigsense provides pre-configured telemetry devices to authorised installers (DQPs, or Duly Qualified People). It offers a range of services to help address the resourcing gap the project created and to ensure consistent quality in telemetry installations.

“The NSW non-urban framework is Australia’s first open market meter telemetry framework. For many installers, this was their first exposure to telemetry systems. SigSense sought to help installers, end users and even government officers address the complexity and associated quality risk of this nation’s first project.” said Ben Starr, Director of SigSense.

Starr believes that the partnership between Kallipr and SigSense showcases the solution for secure, reliable and cost-effective automatic meter readings.

“SigSense and Kallipr have been instrumental in changing how NSW monitors and manages its water consumption,” said Starr.

SigSense is the Kallipr authorised reseller of the Captis device for the NSW water metering market. It also operates in emerging markets in other Australian states. SigSense focuses on making compliance simple, with close relationships with all meter manufacturers and installers nationwide.

What are the regulations introduced by Water NSW?

Water NSW and the NSW Government are committed to implementing a robust metering framework to improve the standard and coverage of non-urban water meters across NSW.

The changes in requirements for metering and telemetry were implemented by the gazetting of the Data Logging and Telemetry Specifications under the NSW Water Management Regulation 2018 and modifications of several sections of the Water Management Act 2000.

As part of this project, the regulator requires all license holders to acquire compliant water meters that accurately measure water consumption. License holders also need to connect these meters to Local Intelligence Device (or LID), that records water usage on-site and transmits that data to the government’s Data Acquisition System (DAS) for compliance and water accounting.

“These devices will make it easier and more accurate for water users to record their water take. It ensures greater fairness in how we share water in NSW,” said Scott Mathieson, Senior Investigator for the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator.

LIDs are subject to robust testing against the NSW government’s strict technical and functional requirements over months before being accepted and listed as an approved solution. The pattern-approved meters comply with AES 4747 and have been assessed by the National Measurement Institute of Australia as compliant.

“SigSense is solving part of the non-urban metering challenges in getting the data from the meters back to the government. We have 56 registered installers nationwide installing a planned 6400 telemetry devices over the next five years. I believe this is one of Australia’s largest rollouts of automatic meter readers for non-urban water,” said Starr.

The biggest challenges for non-urban water metering

To develop a solution that would meet the requirements of the NSW Government, SigSense worked to understand the needs of the government.

“Once we knew what the government required, we needed to find the right device,” said Starr. “We knew that as landholders were purchasing the devices almost exclusively to satisfy a regulatory requirement, low pricing would be important. We also realised that the installer network of DQPs had limited experience in telemetry and system integration. That meant a system that allowed us to configure and support our installer network remotely would be critical.”

“Pricing had to consider total cost, which means simplicity for installations and long operational life in the field.”

“We found the Captis device, developed by Kallipr for urban metering applications, to be ideally suited for non-urban use. Unlike traditional scientific data loggers, the Captis is designed for large-scale deployment, with tens of thousands of units per project. That drives down costs and enables easy installation. This mass production creates economies of scale, making it a more affordable solution for regulatory markets.”

Why the Captis device is an excellent fit for non-urban water metering

The Captis devices leverage IoT technology, making it a suitable, cost-effective solution operating in areas with minimal connectivity. Telstra’s NB-IoT coverage across NSW means that the devices can service almost every meter in the state.

“We find the installer has no cellular coverage at many installation sites. However, they can have strong connectivity from the Captis on the NBIoT network.”

The Captis devices are low-cost, easy to use and can be configured remotely for DQP installers. They use wireless communication capabilities to ensure connection in remote areas and are flexible. It provides seamless integration with all pattern-approved meters, making it easier to scale as the program expands.

Starr talked about a few minor modifications that needed to take place to the existing Captis devices. They included increasing the onboard storage capacity to accommodate five years of data and adding eyelets to receive tamper-evident seals to meet the requirements of the regulator. Kallipr accommodated these changes to support the NSW non-urban metering framework.

Sigsense has supplied over 4,600 Captis devices which have been installed across 800,000 square kilometres of land, and the solution has gained certification as an approved LID is the supplier of choice for WaterNSW for the 2600 government-owned meters.

What has been learned? 

With any non-urban metering project utilising an open market approach, the biggest challenge is the vast number of options available to users and the complexity this introduces to the government in administering the framework.

Consider an urban water metering initiative. The utility will purchase and install meters and telemetry devices at each endpoint. It will then recover installation and maintenance costs with an annual service charge. Hardware will be installed by the utility’s contractor, allowing work to be programmed, going door to door to install devices. This installation method is significantly more efficient than the ad-hoc basis required in an open-market approach.

“It’s conceivable in the current open market model that two separate DQPs make a 10-hour return trip to install two LIDs on neighbouring blocks, said Starr. “If installed on a roll-out basis, this would be a 50 per cent reduction in install time (and cost).”

This is why the open market model is so significantly different from the traditional models faced by urban water utilities.

“In an open market model, landholders may choose from one of seven telemetry devices and connect these to one of fifteen meters. They can then use one of the eighty approved installers, transmitting over one of four different data transport methods over three cellular telemetry bands. We’re dealing with over 100,000 combinations and permutations,” he said.

How SigSense is providing additional value to its clients

Part of the value that SigSense provides is managing the quality risk for our DQPs and end-customers dealing with this system’s complexity. Starr said SigSense does this in various ways.

“We document the installation method for each Pattern-approved meter to achieve standardisation of installation method. During this process, we identified some errors with the meter vendor’s documentation which have since been remedied. We’ve removed the need for DQPs to be intimately familiar with the configuration of devices, instead offering this as a service so the Captis can be plug-and-play when they arrive at the site. Despite this, each authorised Captis installer undergoes mandatory device training,” he said.

SigSense also assists with telemetry design, NB-IoT signal strength modelling, and installation site recommendations. It provides advice on the optimal antennae type for each location and the best elevation and azimuth angle for directional antennae.

“We also assist our DQP clients with navigating the administrative processes of the government,” said Starr. “We have DQPs on staff who have undergone the Irrigation Australia Certified Meter Installer training, so we’re up to speed with requirements.”

Bringing people on the journey

It’s not just the NSW government that benefits from installing Captis water meters. The farmers and other non-urban water users are reaping the rewards of their actions.

“I think that when we look at the entire program holistically, it fosters a more equitable and efficient management system. The framework ensures that all water users are held accountable for their water usage. That builds trust among stakeholders and demonstrates that compliant farmers are operating within their allocated limits. It also allows the government to recognise those farmers who have been using water efficiently and sustainably. This could lead to additional incentives or benefits, explicit or otherwise,” said Starr.

Part of achieving that outcome has been working with non-urban water users. A study out of Monash University indicated that nearly two in three non-urban water users supported metering and telemetry. Respondents said that they understood it was needed to manage compliance action.

“This data is detecting nonconformance, so it is working, and it should build public trust,” he said. “I would expect that public trust will continue to build over time as we see illegal water use detected and, ideally, stopped.”

What does the future hold for SigSense and non-urban water metering?

There has been much interest in the NSW scheme from other states. Starr is collaborating with other state government departments across Australia to implement their own non-urban metering frameworks. He aims to leverage the lessons learnt from the NSW rollout.

“There are regions in Australia where landholders with water licenses only self-report usage once or twice a year,” he said. “This is very different from urban areas, where being metered for our meagre water use at our house and being billed for consumption by the litre has been normalised.”

Starr pointed out that measuring water extracted for irrigation and accounting for water usage against licenses is a critical element of water management. This is an issue of national importance.

“I can envisage that every pump extracting water from groundwater or surface water will be metered over the next decade. That consumption will be transmitted. In this way, the non-urban water market will catch up to the state of play with every family in Australia.”

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