Digital meters reduce water leaks and bill shock

Iota is introducing digital meters throughout the South East Water catchment area, including Patterson Lakes

According to South East Water, identifying leaks early has prevented an average of $150 in unnecessary usage charges from being added to a customer’s next bill. As the cost of living has increased, customers continue to be conscious of their bills. They have higher expectations of utilities to inform them of their usage and potential issues. Mikala Hehir, General Manager of Customer and Community at South East Water, explained how new digital meters and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms help identify leaks. They save customers water and money while protecting a critical resource. Since May last year, the 35,000 digital meters installed across its network have saved over 200 million litres of water.

Recent research conducted by South East Water found that about five per cent of households have a water leak they don’t know exists. Without intervention, these leaks can go from a minor inconvenience to a major disruption, wasting Australia’s most precious resources and costing customers money.

For utilities, these water leaks can be expensive, disruptive and lead to dissatisfied customers. This is a significant issue when customer expectations are high. There is increased demand for lower bills and more usage visibility.  

Hehir said that traditionally utilities rely on analogue meters and bill quarterly. Once the utility and the customer know about the leak, it can be a serious problem. 

With this in mind, South East Water has been working to develop fit-for-purpose digital solutions to help reduce issues like water leakage. Innovative data-reading technologies like Lentic, Sotto, OneBox, footprint and Flow Lotic have been developed by its in-house research and development team and tested and proven in the network. These outcomes have been created for the benefit of customers, the environment and the utility. 

Embracing digital meters

Digital water meters have become one of the most critical tools in helping customers manage their water usage and avoid bill shock. 

South East Water has commenced a large-scale trial rollout of digital meters. There are around 35,000 digital meters already installed. There are plans for an additional 65,000 to be deployed by the end of 2023.

The utility has developed an IoT platform called Lentic. It performs data ingestion and validation on the data from digital meters. It has integrated seamlessly with existing enterprise systems data, providing high-quality and reliable insights for operational decision-making.

“Lentic is designed to integrate with our other enterprise systems like the customer relationship manager (CRM), allowing customers to track their water usage using the customer portal,” said Hehir. “They can identify unusually high usage early on before it becomes a major issue.

“We have set up an automated process, so the customer’s contact details are in our Salesforce CRM system. From there, we can send out a communication, like an SMS message, to automatically warn them about their usage.

“In just under 15 per cent of the houses that have digital meters, we were able to notify them of leaks – some were aware of these, some not – and have been able to help the customers save money.”

Near-real-time visibility and insights  

An SMS, alongside the portal’s daily updates, has unsurprisingly been received well by customers.

In one recent example, a customer was in the process of building a house but was not present. They were unaware of a substantial leak of close to 30,000 litres over 24 hours. 

The builder was also unaware of the leak. South East Water’s customer service team was alerted to the leak via the Lentic system. The leak was detected quickly and fixed early. If the customer had waited 85 days for their next bill, the leak could have cost around $10,000. 

South East Water and its commercial arm, Iota, have continued to create, develop, manufacture and license new technology for their communities to combat some of these pressing water sector issues. They are also listening to their customers to outline the next steps. 

Talking to its customers is critical for South East Water. Over the past 12 months, as part of its 2023-2028 Price Submission, it formed a 40-member community panel of a cross-section of customers. The primary goal was to understand the water services most important to the community. 

Across the variety of public workshops, one-on-one interviews, focus groups and surveys, it was clear that digital, and digital metering, are crucial for most.

South East Water’s deployment of digital meters, plus its central platform that operationalises the data, has had several positive customer and environmental outcomes. 

The platform allows customers to access their data and detect unusual usage early on. It creates a much more positive experience and increasing engagement. Detecting and predicting future disruptive events will enable the world’s most precious resource to be preserved. 

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