In my latest Green State column in Grist, I write about the need to roll out a smart water grid as drought and water shortages take their toll:
The other day I came home to find a colorful flyer on my front door proclaiming, “Your meter just got smarter.”
While I was out and about in Berkeley, a worker from my utility, PG&E, slipped in the side gate and gave my old gas and electric meter a digital upgrade. So-called smart meters allow the two-way transmission of electricity data and will eventually let me monitor and alter my energy consumption in near real-time. I’ll be able to fire up an app on my iPhone and see, for instance, a spike in watts because my son has left the lights on in his room and a laptop plugged in.
Now I only learn of my electricity use when I get my monthly utility bill, long after all that carbon has escaped into the atmosphere. The situation is even worse when it comes to water consumption; my bill and details of my water use arrive every other month.
“When you tell people what total bucket of water they used in the past 60 days, the barn door is open and the animals are long gone,” says Richard Harris, water conservation manager for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, my local water agency.
EBMUD is currently testing smart water meters in 30 households and plans to expand the pilot program to 4,000 homes and businesses later this year.
“It’ll give us better knowledge of where our water is going,” says Harris. “We also thought if we’re going to ask people to use water more efficiently, especially when we’re coming out of a drought and have imposed water restrictions, customers need to have an idea of what their current use is.”
EBMUD’s smart meters take readings every hour and participants in the pilot program will be able to go online to check their consumption and set up an email alert if their water use rises above a certain level. The agency also plans to offer a social networking feature to allow people to compare their water consumption with other households in the area. Nothing like a little peer pressure to get you to turn off the tap.
Given that many states expect to face water shortages in the coming years, one would think we’d be seeing a roll out of smart water meters akin to the national effort being made to smarten up the power grid.
The payoff could be enormous. Water agencies and consumers would be able to detect leaking pipes and toilets in real-time and fix the problem before the water literally goes down the drain.
You can read the rest of the column here.