|dc.description.abstract||Understanding the touchpoints of water usage metering and how meter data is used in all business areas of water utilities, and in the everyday lives of customers, can lead to an appreciation of the scale of obtainable benefits of digital water metering (DWM). The absence of a systematic cataloguing of benefits, and the measurement of their value to a water utility and its customers, may explain the lack of acceptance of this technology among water utilities.
Manual meter reading has been identified as inefficient and ineffective for most utility processes, other than periodic billing for which it too can be problematic. DWM substantially eliminates the walking of meter reading routes by meter readers. It delivers over 2000 readings per quarter (at hourly intervals) rather than just the one reading obtained by the meter reader. Special trips to the property, which are required to read the manual meter when the customer leaves, are also eliminated. Sometimes the customer is asked to read the meter when the water utility cannot. DWM is accurate and automatic whereas manual meter reading is subject to mis-reads and estimation when the meter cannot be accessed. In Australia, and many other parts of the developed world, few water utilities have switched to DWM completely and, in many others, only in particular circumstances, usually involving a lack of physical access or where access by meter readers would be inefficient. Where significant network issues or scarce water resources have existed, digital meters have improved the management of the network and allowed the deferral of network augmentation and the conservation of water.
This doctoral research study aimed to address this lack of knowledge of DWM benefits by searching for and cataloguing the benefits, and by developing plausible measures that provide probabilistic ranges of outcomes of savings and changes to customer sentiment. The objectives were to find as many benefits as possible from across water utilities’ operations and among customer interactions with their water and wastewater service provider; to value those benefits, particularly the less-tangible benefits: and to develop a tool to model the value of benefits for water utilities.
To identify the benefits, an extensive literature review of academic and industry reports was conducted. Interviews were conducted with several current and past staff of water utilities. The literature review was backed up by structured interviews with employees with specific expertise from a cross section of companies and representing various roles within those organisations. Customers were surveyed directly to identify their responses to the potential of digital metering. Qualitative and quantitative methods were applied to the expert opinions and customer survey responses to develop a valuation model that calculates savings and change in customer satisfaction levels. Other surveys were conducted to collect data from water utilities on specific issues. The valuation model was trialled in the field. The methods and findings are presented in the four journal papers that are included in this thesis.
In all, 77 benefits of DWM were identified. These were categorised into a taxonomy based on who would benefit, (i.e., the water business, the customer or both water business or customer) as well as the business areas and sub-areas of those beneficiaries. A second taxonomy was developed that categorised benefits according to sustainability themes. Qualitative analysis of the expert opinions regarding the benefits exposed the range of opinions on the likelihood that benefits could be achieved and the extent of the benefit. While quantifying the savings of individual benefits, two contexts were identified (Cost of Water savings, and Charges and Operational Cost savings) and the need for flexibility to meet local expectations was observed. The customer survey revealed the potential change in levels of customer satisfaction from a current 5.8 (0 – 10 scale) to between 6.2 and 8.8, with a simple average of 7.6. Separate valuation methods within the model were developed for each context. A third valuation method was developed for measuring change in customer satisfaction over multiple years. The application of the model, using a large metropolitan water utility’s data, calculated savings outcomes that were consistent with the utility’s cost-benefit analysis and provided the utility with risk-based probabilistic ranges. DWM benefit savings were also viewed through a sustainability lens after being allocated to the different sustainability themes. The trial raised issues with the framing of business cases for DWM projects and which were then examined.
Other findings were made during the study. The commonly used scale used in the Net Promoter Score classification of customers was observed to be inaccurate for relationship type surveys of water utilities, and a new scale was proposed. The potential of data analytics applied to hourly meter readings to answer questions on usage within residential properties was examined through a case study of a regional water utility. A model to optimise the sequencing of meter deployment to gain benefits early was proposed and a prototype model presented. Further, an opportunity for a capability model for intelligent metering was identified and a preliminary model was developed. The study also proposed that a longitudinal study of the uplift in customer satisfaction from the use of DWM be conducted, and that a non-monetary measure of the value of social equity be developed and applied to DWM project proposals.||