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‘Smart water solutions market getting mature in India’

New Delhi : Against the backdrop of growing urban population and increasing shortages, water utilities in India are turning towards smart water solutions and big data for bringing in much needed efficiencies even as they make efforts to bolster aging infrastructure.

Many of these utilities are tapping private players for outsourcing of management expertise for curtailing non-revenue water (NRW), smart metering and billing solutions and distribution experience too.

India Water Review Editor Girish Chadha speaks to Amit Vaidya, Director (Strategic Customer Team) of Sensus India, a Xylem brand, to understand how the company is looking to expand in the smart water solutions market in India.

Can you lay out the landscape in India in terms of the current practices at water utilities, need for smart water solutions and the products available in the Indian market? Where does the concept of big data capture come in and how does this data help in making water utilities more efficient?

India is gradually beginning to realise the importance of water and use it smartly. At present, in India, utilities bill people according to the average consumption of water rather than the actual consumption. The biggest concern of today is non-revenue water and utilities are now able to understand the significance of the same. With smart meters and smart solutions, utilities would be able to cut down on the non-revenue water and this will eventually help them to bill people on their actual consumption of water.

When it comes to products used, most ultrasonic meters can be affected by entrained air and contaminants in the water – especially at lower flow rates. Below a certain level the meters will reflect an error and not provide a reading. With the use of electromagnetic smart water meters, utilities can record and know the water requirement in the area and this data would help them to understand the consumption of water and help them use it efficiently.

Where does Sensus fit into this picture? How is it poised to help in effective water management in the country?

Sensus, a Xylem brand, works closely with utility bodies and water companies and therefore understands the challenges being faced in the country. Sensus, with its electromagnetic technology enabled smart water meter, iPERL, a solid state smart water meter with integrated bidirectional communications capability, uses technology that provides unrivalled, sustained accuracy over their expected 15-year service life.

The Sensus iPERL meter measures flow rates as low as 1L per hour and provides a higher level of accuracy over ultrasonic meters, enabling greater detection of customer side leakages. The near real-time data reads provide in-depth, granular intelligence that can detect leaks while they are occurring – especially if used alongside intelligent analytics software – such as the Visenti, a Xylem brand LeakView solution.

Thus, the data captured by the meter provides water utilities with accurate information to identify and help manage network issues both proactively and efficiently. It also helps in addressing environmental challenges, whilst improving customer service, security of continuous water supply and operational efficiencies.

What are the key technology offerings by Sensus in the Indian market? Are all the products from the global range available in India or do you think the market is not mature enough to sustain all products?

Sensus provides the communication network – Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). AMI helps in providing accurate data measurement as well as in consistent and faster billing resolution, with low cost of ownership. Along with this, the electromagnetic technology enabled smart water meter iPERL enables managing of the distribution networks more efficiently. All the global range products are available in India.

The Indian market is starting to see a movement and shift in the right direction and with the Smart City Mission, it is poised for a certain growth. We are also planning to add new products to our portfolio; these products have been designed according to the Indian market and we can’t wait to launch them.

Given the fact that water utilities and municipal entities are your main customers, and also the most difficult, how do you see growth in the future as competition hots up?

Municipal entities are definitely our main target and with such collaborations, Sensus would be able to help and change the state of water in India. It is always difficult to take the first step, and with our collaboration with the Pune Municipal Corporation, we are definitely moving in the right direction.

With this huge vision in providing 24X7 water, other cities will perceive the effect and advantages of such smart metering solutions and the rest will fall in place. Considering the highly demanding environment, the Indian water utilities require a smart meter technology that is dependable throughout its life. Simplicity of installation and ongoing operation is also an important aspect here. Sensus works towards minimising the maintenance costs and our aim is to continue to do in the future and stand out among competitors.

Most water utilities in India are considered financially inefficient, have high NRW figures, lack capacity but are unable to raise water charges. How has been the experience of players like Sensus in offering tailor-made smart metering solutions in the country? Could you provide some examples where a demonstrable and tangible difference has been made by Sensus?

Water is treated as a social issue and most of the time, it is free or given with minimal charges and with the high NRW figures, things get more complex. Municipal bodies or water utilities in India are increasingly able to see the larger positive picture, and with the incorporation of smart meters alongside the use of this cutting-edge technology, they would be able to tremendously cut down on non-revenue water.

This would in turn enable them to provide 24X7 water supply to the people, thus building the much needed trust among them when it comes to water. By billing in terms of actual consumption, it would help in financial efficiency as well. As an example, I would like to mention our collaboration with Pune Municipal Corporation, where we will provide 24X7 water supply to the city, and have a vision to reduce NRW from 40 per cent to 20 per cent.

The concept of smart water solutions, including metering solutions, is relatively new in India and many water utilities don't possess the bandwidth to decide what the best solution is for them. What according to you are the main issues and challenges hampering the uptake of smart water solutions by utilities? How are market players including Sensus tackling this?

Yes, it is relatively new in India. However, with changing times, it is becoming increasingly relevant here. It is available and a reality now. Proven trials and implementations across the world have proven the vast array of benefits – cost reduction, reduction in non-revenue water etc.

The biggest investment is not normally in the smart meters or the communications infrastructure, but rather in the IT infrastructure, data centres and networks to deal with all the data that is recorded and analysed. India is renowned for its information technology (IT) sector, software expertise and engineering talent and given the right level of investment, incentives and direction from government, there is no reason why the Indian water sector cannot rise to the many challenges.

As I mentioned earlier, water utilities are now able to understand the importance, and are slowly taking further steps towards smart metering. One of our biggest projects in India is with PMC. We are now in talks with Andhra Pradesh water bodies as well. Utilities are able to see the advantages and I would say that these challenges are getting blurred and the potential is huge.

What are the recent promising technology developments in the smart water metering space? How is Artificial Intelligence (AI) being weaved into metering products and how is it expected to lead to gain for public utilities?

Between 2018 and 2024, a 30 per cent growth is anticipated in the smart water metering market in the Asia-Pacific region. The increased adoption of smart technologies to reduce water shortages and utility non-revenues is a key driver in this.

Recent promising technology developments in the smart water metering space have been the electromagnetic technology enabled smart water meters. Electromagnetic metering is a long-established method of flow measurement for larger diameter pipes and when the technology is adapted to residential meters, it offers several advantages over other static meter technologies. Such meters measure the velocity of the water based on the voltage generated across a pair of electrodes when water passes through an adjacent magnetic field in a section of insulating pipe, and then calculate an average volume of flow by multiplying by the cross-sectional area of the pipe over very short intervals of time. This calculation is linear over a much wider range than any other flow metering technology, and does not require processor intensive algorithmic correction and temperature compensation unlike ultrasonic meters. In addition, the high rate of sampling ensures that there is no detrimental aliasing effect, so the output measurements are correct even for rapidly changing flow characteristics.

Smart water meters provide data that is of interest for multiple parties: utilities, home owners, insurance companies, maintenance providers, facility managers, government organisations, research foundations, etc and are also used for billing purposes. This makes them an interesting platform on which to apply blockchain technologies, especially those aimed at IoT applications.

AI (artificial intelligence) is what helps make sense of this data and lead to its evolution. The more data you have, the more efficiently you can manage and operate the network. AI and ML will ramp up even further once larger quantities of projects and next-generation meters are deployed and may start to show their true potential and reach the top of the list in 2019.

What is the current production capacity of Sensus range in India? Are some Sensus products imported in India too? Is Xylem looking to ramp up production capacity for this brand, and by how much?

Sensus currently manufactures and imports all product portfolios from Europe factories. However, India is a key market for Xylem, and various opportunities and ways of building capacity to better serve the Indian market are being explored.

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