Smart meters will soon be familiar to consumers, private or professional. This also applies to water supply. In Flanders, De Watergroep, a major player in this sector, turned to Opinum to be prepared and to make informed choices.
De Watergroep is the largest water supply company in Flanders. In charge of supplying drinking water to 177 municipalities in West and East Flanders, Flemish Brabant and Limburg, the company manages a 34,000 kilometres network and serves more than 3.2 million private individuals and several hundred companies.
Like all companies in its sector, Watergroep is actively preparing the deployment of smart meters to replace the current analog meters.
While many companies, in particular industrial companies and building managers, have already taken the next step, the widespread use of the equipment is still being tested. Large-scale deployment is expected to take place over the next ten years, with some regional variations.
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It is in this context – and in the broader context of energy transition - that De Watergroep turned to Opinum to experiment the collection and analysis of consumption data, to develop a customer portal, and to give it concrete material for the final solution that will be deployed.
"The collaboration with Opinum has already given us a better understanding of the situation. It will allow us to better deploy smart meters and make more intelligent use of data." - Cindy Vanderstraeten (De Watergroep)
"As of right now, customers must upload their analog meter readings once a year onto our website," explains Cindy Vanderstraeten, Smart Metering Project Manager in Watergroep's Innovation Department. "Our intention is to replace all current meters with digital meters within 16 years."
To prepare the deployment, the company embarked on an evaluation project that focuses on the type of meter to be installed, on the nature and frequency of the data collected and analysed, and on the analytical parameters that need to be applied to extract useful information for both its own needs and those of their end customers.
"The purpose of Opinum's mission is to provide us with a data platform that collects all survey data, aggregates, standardizes, stores and makes it available to both our teams and our end customers, so they can access their consumption data through their personal space on the portal."
Seven tests, local or regional, are currently underway to measure and monitor specific variables. One of those variables would be to evaluate zone counters used to detect leaks on the network or to test connectivity on a given territory. As for smart meters themselves, five models are tested. They differ not only in their functionality but also in the type of connection and communication protocol they use.
"So, we test both the different meters and these kinds of specificities. On some meters, we also test more specific potentials, for example the backflow valve which signals and avoids a flow reversal.
Depending on the type of meter we use during the test phase, we can collect consumption data on an hourly or daily basis. This allows us to be quickly notified of possible leaks, peak of consumption or even attempted fraud. That is the whole point of installing smart meters: allowing us to solve these kinds of problems. However, the purpose is not to profile clients. All data are anonymized before analysis. In addition, the installation of smart meters will allow the customers to check the status of their water consumption at any time.
The portal was implemented by DXC technology for the needs of this pilot project which has been operational since summer 2019. DXC technology is a system integrator partner of Opinum. They designed the portal in the specific colours and graphic appearance desired by De Watergroep.
For the water company, the project is a first. No other tests of data collection and real-time monitoring of consumption had yet taken place. The lessons that can therefore be drawn from this experience will be essential for taking a series of major decisions. "Based on this experience, we will be able to formulate recommendations and draw lessons that will be useful to us in the choice and development of the final solution," says Cindy Vanderstraeten.
A simple and personalized solution
As a public operator, De Watergroep selected Opinum following a call for tenders. The arguments that turned the decision in its favour were a combination of economic and functional parameters. "From an economic point of view, we opted for the offer that appeared to be the most appealing, taking into account the price-quality ratio. From a quality point of view, we took into consideration criteria such as data security, the user-friendliness of the solution, its user-friendly aspect, the degree of configuration De Watergroep could apply and the services offered by the service provider."
In retrospect, the company says it is fully satisfied with its choice: "We have developed an excellent working relationship with Opinum. For both our companies, it was a bit of a discovery. By adopting a flexible approach in our mutual relations and by addressing each problem in a constructive way, we have already achieved a great journey. The Opinum Data Hub platform also offers a series of interesting options that we are currently testing."
With the pilot phase still in full swing, Cindy Vanderstraeten cannot yet really talk about the benefits and lessons learned - or reveal them. "What I can confirm, however, is that the collaboration with Opinum has already opened up new perspectives and provided us with a finer understanding of the situation that will allow us to better deploy smart meters and make more intelligent use of data."
The next step - in the coming months: the finalisation of regional pilot projects and a synthesis and evaluation of the lessons learned. This will be prior to the decision of generalizing the deployment....