Smart Metering in the Water industry

Several parts of the world are experiencing water stress and high water bills. Stemming water leaks and promoting water conservation is becoming increasingly important. While a lot of attention has been given to the electric smart grid, there is potentially an equally large market for a water smart grid. IBM estimates that the market for a water smart grid could be worth US $10 billion for just the information technology side of the business.

Leaks are a major problem for utilities, with the water infrastructure in some cities at more than fifty years old, this problem is growing. Currently utilities only monitor major leaks at intersections in a pipeline network but not small leaks that, if left alone, can disrupt water pressure, larger leakages and undermine pavements. Smart fire hydrants could be used to detect small leaks in some countries and relay this information back to the utility. For example, Mueller Systems’ Mi Hydrant can wirelessly transmit data on water flow on demand or at set times to a utility.

Smart water meters are starting to make inroads in the market. In the USA alone water bills have risen by an average of one third over the past five years. Thus, there is a market for customers to have real-time data on their water usage and water prices. In the Middle East and North Africa significant water stress has created a small, but growing market for meters.

On the demand side, approximately 50% of urban water is used for landscaping. Most water sprinkling systems are on a timer and settings are usually based on estimates over a season rather than on a day-to-day or hourly basis. Smart irrigation systems can help efficiently use water resources with technologies that can even use satellite technology and weather forecasts to estimate evaporation rates and thus change watering patterns. This type of technology and soil sensors has already been used in the agricultural sector to prevent the under watering and over watering of crops.

As there is a strong connection between energy and water, conserving water is bound to conserve energy. Therefore, a water smart grid would help improve overall energy efficiency.

Types of renewable energy

The traditional forms of renewable energy, such as non-commercial biomass, geothermal heat and water power, have been with mankind since life started. Conversion into secondary energy is relatively new and is escalating now, driven by concern about the depletion of fossil fuel resources and environmental concerns about pollution, climate change and global warming. The different renewable energy sources are in varying stages of development. Below we take a look at 4 of the most common renewable energy technologies:

Hydro power

Hydro power is a mature generating technology. Although not the largest renewable primary source, which is biomass, hydropower is the largest renewable source of electricity. At 15.9% hydro power currently has a slightly larger share than nuclear power which has 13.5%. Hydro power is the most important renewable energy source for the generation of electricity.

Wind power

Wind power is fast becoming a mature energy source. With an increase in scale of deployment and greater grid interconnectivity, wind power is no longer on the fringes of the renewable energy world. Whilst no grid system could rely on wind power alone, there are increasing periods of time where countries that deploy large-capacity wind generation systems see 100% of their energy sourced from renewable (wind) energy.

Solar photovoltaic energy

Deployable in grid-connected as well as distributed- and micro-generation installations, Solar PV electricity generation is growing thanks to a reduction in cost of the panels themselves, combined with increased efficiencies and technological advancements. Much like wind energy, no grid system can rely on solar power for 100% of its energy needs, however, as storage technology also continues to develop, we’re seeing a growing market for these renewable sources of energy.

Solar thermal energy

Among the most promising areas of the world for the deployment of Solar Thermal Energy generation are the South-Western United States, Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean countries of Europe, Iran, Pakistan and the desert regions of India, the former Soviet Union, China and Australia. Solar thermal power uses direct sunlight, so it must be sited in regions with high direct solar radiation.

In many regions of the world, one square kilometre of land is enough to generate as much as 100-200 GWh of electricity per year using solar thermal technology. This is equivalent to the annual production of a 50 MW conventional coal or gas-fired power plant.
Find out more about renewable energy with NRG Expert’s Renewable Energy research products

Distributed generation

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In the conventional transmission and distribution grid, power is generated remotely, transported at high voltage to the load centre and then distributed after being stepped down to low voltage. Distributed generation (DG) generates electricity from various small energy sources, at medium or low voltage and delivers it directly into the distribution network, avoiding the need for a high voltage transmission network. Typical distributed power sources have low maintenance, low pollution and high efficiencies. DG is also called ‘on-site generation’, ‘dispersed generation’, ‘embedded generation’, ‘decentralised generation’ and ‘distributed energy’.

Solar PV technology is suitable for use in distributed generation systems, because power can be generated at any consumption point, be it industrial, commercial or domestic. However, there are problems. Firstly, the cost is high. Secondly, most solar cells have waste disposal issues, since solar cells often contain heavy-metal electronic wastes; although they are otherwise environmentally clean.

A very cost-effective hybrid system for a micro-grid is joint power generation Photovoltaic array and a Micro Hydro turbine, very simple and easy to maintain with a power capability of about 100KW.  When the streams abate, say in summer, the sun is at its peak, offsetting any power loss.

Wind is an increasingly popular source of distributed generation as well; combining renewable energy production methods with effective small-scale energy storage can benefit micro-grid connected properties and communities, with a larger (regional or national) grid being called upon for the energy shortfall should it be necessary.

Technologically, there are barriers to this implementation; not least in billing. Where a distributed generation network is grid-connected, often it is incumbent on the utility or DSO/TSO to allow for energy to be fed into the grid, and a rate at which this energy is bought must be agreed upon. To TSOs and DSOs, as well as generators, distributed generation systems can come at a cost. However, government regulation and subsidies can help offset these challenges and expenses.

Many issues remain to be resolved in the industrialised countries to give distributed generation its full opportunity. These involve grid codes for the generators supplying excess power into the distribution grid and “net metering”, the metering of electricity in two directions: from the distribution grid and back into it. However these are worth resolving as this is a definite ‘clean’ method of producing power that can be positioned close to habitation so reducing loss in transmission lines

Water Shortage and Utility Metering

Water shortage is an increasingly important driver in changing the profile of water metering and is beginning to impact the market in some countries.

In some countries, notably China, serious shortages are affecting the economy and social conditions and are a major priority. This lead to the largest water metering programme in history, with a target of “one meter one household”.

70% of world water use is devoted to irrigation, so raising irrigation efficiency is central to raising water productivity overall. Crop usage of irrigation water never reaches 100% simply because some irrigation water evaporates, some percolates downward, and some runs off. Surface water irrigation efficiency ranges between 25% and 40% in India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand; between 40% and 45% in Malaysia and Morocco and between 50% and 60% in Israel, Japan, and Taiwan.

The meter companies in the US have addressed the issue of water shortage, and it is an important factor driving sales of smart meters and sub-meters. This is usually attributed to the arid south western states but it is also significant in the east. The southeast has been facing its share of water shortages, and the reserve capacity of water in the east is generally lower than in the west because the reservoirs are shallower.

Another major advantage and driver to the rollout of smart metering for piped water distribution is the possibility to discover and fix leaks and other system losses more effectively. With more data being fed to the utility, a more accurate and real-time overview can be created on weak points in the system. As water remains scarce in many regions, a wide-scale rollout of metering technologies can mean greater efficiency in water delivery.

Going green, increased renewable energy capacity online in 2018 – still a long way to go

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The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) this week published its 2019 Renewable Energy Statistics showing an increase in renewable energy capacity over 2017’s figures of just over 8%. An impressive figure, spurred by significant growth in Asia, especially in the wind and solar sectors.

Renewable energy is a growing force in the electricity generation landscape and has been for many years. Once cheap fossil fuels are increasing in cost, though not yet at a rate that will see their elimination entirely. Growing concerns of climate change caused by the emission of greenhouse gases is giving rise to an increasing movement to slow and curtail the use of fossil fuels, especially coal.

Unfortunately, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar cannot replace fossil fuel one to one, so this increase in capacity does not measure proportionately as an opportunity to reduce fossil fuel sources of energy. Wind and solar energy are considered intermittent sources of energy, with much lower capacity factors than their thermal energy counterparts. With enough scale, however, renewable energy can play an important part in reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Consumers, too, can play a role in fostering the continued rollout of wind and solar energy. While it’s not expected that consumers should change their behaviours to match peak production of wind and solar farms (i.e. only consume energy when the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining), smart technologies and increased awareness can go a long way in harnessing the benefits of renewable energy on all levels.

Increased energy efficiency and a close look at the potential for a reduction in consumption will help build a stronger, more reliable network that can incorporate renewable energy technologies to their full potential. All levels of the supply chain from producers to consumers have a part to play in the energy transition to a cleaner, greener, energy future.

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Oil Reserves and Production

The shortage between oil production and consumption worldwide has been increasing since the late 1990s. Generally, a lack of supply does not appear to be due to a current acute lack of refining capacity; although refining capacity is more stretched than it was in the 1980s. Refining throughput accounted for 82% of total global refining capacity and actual crude production accounted for 89% of refinery capacity. Therefore, although new refinery capacity will need to come online in the near term to meet future demand, it is not a cause of current shortage concerns.

Most countries have oil reserves that can be mobilised to meet demand if supplies of oil are insufficient. Members of the European Union must have 90 day of reserves for the three main petroleum energy product categories and they must establish contingency plans, bodies and mandates to release the reserves in response to crisis market conditions through the Oil Supply Group. The US has the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Other countries have their own contingency reserves of oil. All OECD countries are obliged to hold a minimum of oil reserves to cover 90 days of net oil imports in public and private storage.

All of these countries don’t hold refined supplies of oil. Therefore, refining capacity is needed to utilise these supplies in a short period of time, which may be constrained especially if a disaster has occurred e.g. Hurricane Katrina or the last earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Furthermore, these countries are reluctant to use these stored reserves because they make the country extremely vulnerable to supply volatility and oil prices could rise further. Therefore, to minimise the impact of oil supply shocks and ensure supply, make domestic production of unconventional oil more attractive, especially if oil prices are high.

The US mobilised its reserves in the first Iraq Gulf War (30 million barrels) and Hurricane Katrina (around 22 million barrels).

Smart Grid vulnerabilities


Smart metering and the smart grid bring many benefits to consumers and the energy industry alike. With wider adoption of these technologies, come increased risks that vulnerabilities will be exploited, though manufacturers and utilities invest heavily in security features to ensure that major problems do not occur.

The need for smart grid security has spawned an entirely new industry that deals primarily with assessing and handling threats that can arise with the adoption of these new technologies. Considering the importance of a stable grid network for everything from food production, to healthcare and sanitation; it is vital that these systems be well protected.

For consumers, too, there is a need for protection. With the increased connectivity in meters, it would theoretically be possible to hack in and not only monitor energy use remotely (detecting when the property is vacant) but also switch off energy flow to a property (interfering with security systems).

Alternately, a computer worm could be used to move from meter to meter. Then control all the meters in the grid by remotely shutting down the meters or affecting communication between the utility and the consumer. Or hackers could impersonate meters to inflate bills, lower bills (energy theft) or get into the utility’s network and steal data or commit a large scale attack.

A cyber security solution for the grid must be able to prevent and resolve attacks quickly before several attacks collectively disable a system. A multi-layered approach to security is needed using several anti-attack strategies. As it is inevitable that some smart meters will become compromised, this is not an area for utilities to scrimp on and make cuts.

Energy Storage in the United States

The United States generates over 4 billion (4,000,000,000) megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity every year. As it stands currently, less than 0.0001% of that energy can be stored which means that the energy that is produced, must immediately be consumed. With renewable energy sources playing an ever-increasing role in the generation fleet, the generation landscape is changing and threatens to upend the status quo that keeps the grid functioning as it currently does.

Of course, this isn’t a doom and gloom scenario and renewable energy sources form a welcome addition to an increasingly diverse fleet of electricity generation sources. Energy storage’s necessity will, however, continue to grow as we incorporate these technologies into the grid.

When thinking energy storage, we mustn’t solely think of batteries. Of the energy storage capacity in the US, over 90% is available as pumped storage. One of the oldest forms of energy storage, pumped storage hydroelectricity has been around for many decades. Battery storage, too, plays an important role in energy storage, however, its applications have so-far been limited to smaller-scale systems designed for very local and direct needs, whereas pumped storage hydroelectricity is more adapt to large-scale utility generation requirements.

Lithium is quickly becoming the hottest commodity for energy storage as it is extensively used in battery technology. Development continues, and alternate battery technologies are being explored, however, lithium-ion batteries are the most popular large-scale battery storage technology being deployed in the US. With the cost of lithium coming down, it would seem that this technology is what holds the future. Smaller-scale flexible energy storage solutions can be widely deployed, allowing for utilization of the smart grid networks being developed across the country.

Energy storage is on the rise and is certainly a space to be watched.

Why do gas prices go up in summer?

Now that we’ve paid tribute on Memorial Day, summer has once again (unofficially) arrived and so have higher prices at the pump. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not only because we tend to drive more in the summer (did I hear you say road trip?), but also due to other factors that we pay more to fill up during the summer months than we do in the winter.

Increased demand is most certainly a factor, but not as much as you might think. The gasoline we pump into our vehicles is different in the summer than it is in the winter. Back in the mid 1990s, to curb the number of smog days and reduce overall pollution in major cities, the Environmental Protection Agency started the Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) Program established through the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

The RFG program means that the fuel we use in the summer is less polluting than in the winter. For consumers it can be a double whammy though; not only is the fuel more expensive at the pump; summer fuel is less efficient, and we end up burning through it quicker than we use winter fuels, meaning we fill up more often too.

The transition to summer fuels usually takes place around April in time for the start of the summer season. To make the new fuel, refineries must briefly shut down production while they amend their processes. This production shortfall also has an effect on the prices of gasoline, even though we go through the same process every year.

With so much volatility in the price of oil and availability of refining capacity, it can be costly and difficult for refineries to balance their maintenance needs and make the transitions necessary to comply with the regulations, which has an impact on the fuel prices.

It’s not every year that we feel a sharp effect of rising fuel costs due to this switch, as other factors most certainly play into this market. But if you’ve ever caught yourself wondering why that summer road trip is more expensive, this might be your answer.

Renewable Energy and Energy Storage

The smart grid has gained a lot of column inches in the last decade as the panacea for all problems with the current grid system. The grid’s high carbon footprint; and its inability to integrate a high percentage of intermittent renewable energy capacity from wind and solar, and distributed, small scale energy generators, such as rooftop solar PV plants and small-scale wind turbines; are all but a few of the problems faced in modern grid systems.

The grid needs a constant, steady supply of electricity to avoid surges and black-outs with large penetration to connect large amounts of intermittent renewable energy capacity to the grid. Smart or not, storage capacity needs to be integrated into the grid infrastructure.

Legacy grid systems are being adapted to the new realities of rooftop solar and electric vehicles; while newly built grids are adapting to the fundamental shift of decentralized energy production. The NRG Expert Smart Grid Report and accompanying database provide insights into these markets and present some of the technologies that are helping utilities and governments plan and adapt for the future grid systems.

Storage options used are likely to be a combination of different storage technologies. They either store the electricity generated as chemical energy, potential energy (mechanical) or heat energy, in the case of water heaters. The main storage technologies are batteries, both static and mobile in the form of electric vehicles; fly wheels; hydropower; compressed air storage; hydrogen storage and flow cells. Most of these storage technologies are still in their infancy and have many disadvantages and limitations that need to be overcome. Hydropower is the mature and of the rest, compressed air is the closest to commercialisation as the technology operates reliably on a small scale and is low cost.