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Water companies wait for smart meters to get cheap

Posted: 15 Nov 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smart meter? water? sensor? networks?

Similar to the electric grid, water utilities in the United States are on the whole still using 19th century technologies for metering. Now it is attracting entrepreneurs to play in what is one of clean tech's newest and perhaps most critical sectors.

A looming water crisis is expected as consumption of the planet's limited fresh-water resources keeps increasing. Sensor networks and other electronics could be leveraged to rebuild an aging and inefficient infrastructure while accelerating the move to seawater and wastewater reclamation, they say.

But even the most optimistic experts admit it will take tough new policies and significantly higher prices to drive any progress toward a modern water system. Even with such changes, growth in electronics for water utilities is likely limited to the low-single-digit growth of the utilities themselves.

San Jose Water Co., one of the 10 largest in the US and more automated than most, has all 1 million of its customers metered. But the 225,000 meters it uses are all mechanical devices that must be read in person.

"It would be nice to have automated meters, but right now the cost is prohibitive; we've estimated $40 million for our system," said Tom Victorine, director of operations, San Jose Water, which employs just 324 people and supplies 50 billion gallons of water a year.

Victorine estimates Moore's Law will put smart meters within San Jose Water's budget within 10 years.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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