Sydney Water and WaterGroup have been working together to roll out online water monitoring for its business and industrial users. This collaboration has created strong and measurable savings for businesses across Greater Sydney.
Hidden leaks and inefficient processes cost businesses thousands of dollars each year. They can waste tens of thousands of litres of water. That’s why Sydney Water contacted WaterGroup to help in the roll-out of its online water monitoring program. The program provides real-time data logging for businesses to track their water consumption, highlighting abnormal use to pinpoint where savings can be made.
Ben Swain is the Manager – Water Efficiency Programs at Sydney Water. He’s got a family history with the organisation, going back through his parents and one of his grandparents, who all worked for Sydney Water. Swain manages the team looking after the Online Monitoring Program, which was established in 2021.
“Both my parents worked for Sydney Water, as did one of my grandparents,” Swain said. “I grew up knowing a lot about Sydney Water, particularly when it comes to the different things the organisation does and the many opportunities for a career. Going into Sydney Water, I started 10 years ago in revenue collections and have since worked in several different teams and departments.”
The Online Monitoring Program was borne out of a range of water efficiency initiatives for business customers in 2020. At the time, there were no program offerings specifically for businesses and industrial water users.
“We intended to help business customers achieve best practice water and wastewater management,” he said. “We focus on leak detection and identifying opportunities for further water savings. It was a new service for business customers and sought to deliver high-frequency water use monitoring.”
Start of the program
WaterGroup was selected through a request for tender and awarded a contract. Aimi Macready, the Head of Sales and Marketing for WaterGroup, attributes this to their previous work in the field.
“Our mission has always been about helping customers identify abnormal water use and then do something about it,” said Macready. “The Sydney Water online monitoring program fits perfectly into that.”
WaterGroup’s smart water metering and Active Water Analysis, Risk and Efficiency (AWARE) management service were offered to Sydney Water and their business customers. By using AWARE, staff at Sydney Water and the customer can direct their efforts into areas where they achieve the best results – rolling out the program and driving corrective actions on site.
“The program is designed to help businesses to save water,” said Swain. “Recognising this goal was key to ensuring that businesses use water efficiently. The pilot program came about to help business customers understand how, where, and when they use water.”
Business customers could identify unexpected water use by understanding how, where, when and for what they use water. This helps them identify more efficiently and cost-effectively whether the underlying cause is a leaking toilet, a valve, a calling tower, a piece of equipment malfunction, a wring set point, or a pipe leak.
“Without that visibility, those issues might remain unresolved,” he said. “The goal was to give businesses access to that knowledge to help them save water and money. It’s also a great opportunity to establish real-time data to report on their key performance indicators (KPIs).”
WaterGroup provided Captis NB-IoT smart water loggers attached to existing water meters. These devices connect via the mobile phone network and send data to UtiliOS, the software as a service (SaaS) platform provided by WaterGroup. To date, more than 100 Sydney Water customer sites have taken up this offer.
The program was first rolled out in January 2021. Initially, it was marketed to a small group of non-residential properties within a chosen customer segment. Swain explained that the pilot was initially offered to car washes, cafes, restaurants, dental services, and laundromats.
“These businesses tend to use a lot of water,” said Rahi Sehat, Project Officer of Water Conservation Programs at Sydney Water. “It was also a heavily subsidised program, and while it was out of reach for some small businesses, others were interested. We gave them access to the program, and it was a great opportunity for businesses that wanted to be more water efficient and greener.”
“In January 2022, we rolled out the program to all businesses,” Swain said. “The only requirement was to have a water meter between 20 and 100 millimetres in size, while also being within area of operations for Sydney Water.”
As the program rolled out, the Sydney Water team found a significant push to allow for the monitoring of submeters. Such an offering would add value to their customers. The program was subsequently tweaked to allow for this.
“We’ve got businesses that have submeters connected after their main meters, but they can’t tell which section uses more water,” said Sehat. “For example, a shopping centre or a food court has multiple stores. The management might want to better manage their water use and understand who is using how much water. This is an opportunity for them to monitor and see how water is used across multiple stores. That’s why we evolved the programme and added eligible submeters.”
When it came to renewals, it was unanimously popular. Every customer who signed up under the original 12-month subsidy has renewed their subscription to the program.
“Everybody that signed up continues to reap the benefits and maintain their connection to the online monitoring service,” Swain said. “Customers have responded very well to the SMS alerts.”
When it comes to the impact of the online monitoring program for businesses, Swain and Sehat found that they were getting more queries from interested customers. That included councils and larger customers who were interested in trying an online monitoring program.
“This is why we expanded the program to a wider range of customers, based on their interest,” Swain said. “We found that when we extended the program’s scope, the uptake from potential customers increased dramatically. It’s why we made it available to all eligible business customers within the Greater Sydney coverage area.”
Swain attributes this change to business customers being empowered to have more control of their water usage. He also believes that interested business customers want to contribute towards implementing sustainable business practices.
“It helps build a culture of commitment for businesses while improving their corporate social responsibility,” he said. “When they join the program, they learn how to use water more efficiently, reducing the demand on dams and rivers. One positive externality is that less wastewater is being discharged.”
When it comes to pure numbers, Sydney Water assesses that they have saved about 500 megalitres of water for its business customers so far. That represents savings of about $1.25 million.
“These savings are separate from the maintenance and wastewater usage costs,” Swain said. “There are additional savings made from the water that otherwise would have been lost, and some other associated costs we haven’t even quantified yet!”
The most significant impact has been from businesses detecting leaks that had been running for extended periods. Sehat spoke about how customers discovered leaks only after joining the program.
“We had one customer that joined the program recently,” she said. “They had had an undetected leak that had started two years earlier. The customer had a huge construction repair bill due to the leak. We were told that if they joined the program earlier, some of these costs would have been mitigated.”
Understanding normal water usage has been vital for businesses to analyse what water is being lost through leaks. This is not limited to clients on land, as any business can leak water.
“There was a marina that had a leak in one of its pipes,” Sehat said. “The pipe was underwater, so there is no way to see the leak through observing the surroundings. It was quite tough to locate the exact location of the leak, but they got there in the end.”
Even the recent COVID-19 pandemic saw businesses discovering that they had leaks. When the lockdowns were rolled out, there was a caravan park with next to no occupancy. However, they still received high water bills. Following an investigation, they found that there was a leak on the property.
“If a customer shuts off the water and finds that water is still flowing, that’s an indicator of a leak,” she said. “That represents water consumption while not using any water. This was often identified in the first few months of installing the IoT data loggers and was visible through a platform that displays water consumption data as a graph.”
WaterGroup an excellent partner
As far as Swain is concerned, WaterGroup has been an excellent partner for the online water monitoring system.
“We’ve engaged with them since 2020,” he said. “We’ve never had any issues with their work. They deliver high-quality service, and working with their team has been great. WaterGroup has a group of experienced and passionate staff..”
Sydney Water plans to roll out up to 200 more devices this financial year. It’s part of the plans for the future. Swain is confident that the program will be expanded beyond its current end date of June 2024.
“We plan to go beyond the current phase, as the renewal rate continues to be incredibly high,” he said. “We’ve maintained the 100 per cent customer renewal rate since we started the program, and Sydney Water continues to get inquiries to become part of the program. Ultimately, we want to help as many businesses as possible to achieve their water-saving goals.
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