England’s caution over smart meters slammed

The view that universal metering across England cannot be afforded because it will penalise large, low income families has been criticised by a senior water expert as “absurd”...

Nov 9th, 2012

The view that universal metering across England cannot be afforded because it will penalise large, low income families has been criticised by a senior water expert as “absurd”.

Dr David Lloyd Owen, managing director of Envisager and author of the newly launched Water Yearbook 2012-2013 said: “This is a classic collision between political populism and reality. Politicians say we can’t afford metering in England yet they can elsewhere.”

In the latest edition of the Yearbook he commented on the perceived expense of metering: “This is absurd for two reasons; such considerations do not apply for telephone, electricity or gas bills, while water utilities across Africa and Asia, where families are large and people tend to be worse off than in Britain are increasingly seeing universal metering as the norm.”

Examples of Kampala in Uganda, Manila in the Philippines and Phnom Penh in Cambodia were quoted as having 100% metering coverage. This compared to 35% across England and a mere 1% in Scotland.

Owen said: “Kampala, Manila and Phnom Penh are excellent examples where universal metering has been deployed in the last 15 years, with full or sustainable cost recovery.”

At the launch of the yearbook, one delegate stated that estimates from regulator Ofwat suggest that for utilities to implement smart meters, an additional cost of £50 per year would have to passed on to the consumer, although they would save £10 per year on bills.

Owen later told Water & Wastewater International (WWi) magazine: “Given that a smart meter costs £100-200 and has minimal operating costs, I am not convinced by either number.”

Ofwat states the following position on metering: “Whilst we consider metering the fairest method of charging for water, we do not advocate universal metering because, in many areas, the extra capital and operating costs of metering might outweigh the benefits in water savings.”

Speaking to WWi in response, Ofwat said: “At the 2009 price review companies provided estimated costs for a range of standardized activities, including meter installations. The resulting cost base report that we published on our website shows that the median cost of an internal meter installation was £116 (with external meter installation excluding boundary box averaging £43 and external meter installation including boundary box averaging £225). This is not an annual cost. This cost is often averaged across 10 years to give an annualized equivalent, because the expected life time of a meter is around 10 years.”

At the end of last year a government White Paper entitled ‘Water for Life’ was released which was criticised for lacking expected support on metering following public consultation (see WWi story).

On smart metering, the report added: “This is simply one facet of the integration of digital electronics, computers, mobile communications, remote sensing and the Internet into water management. It marks the beginning of the more active management of water resources allied with a philosophical shift from supply management to demand management.”

Three case studies were mentioned including: Malta (a comprehensive and integrated smart water and electricity meter programme is underway), Southern Water in the UK (500,000 smart meters being installed despite a hostile political and regulatory environment) and Global Water Resources in the USA (integrated water and power meters for its own customers and third party utilities).

“By 2015, we will move into an era where smart metering and monitoring policy will be subject to empirical research rather than speculation,” it added.

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- For more information on the Water Yearbook, please visit here.

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