What would it mean for your water use if you knew exactly how much water you were using in your home…and exactly how much it was costing you? Would it change your behavior? Water providers and some home builders hope that having access to that real time data like that will help consumers use less resources. For Connecting the Drops, our state-wide series on water issues, Caitlin Coleman reports.
New houses are quickly going up at Sterling Ranch, a Highlands Ranch master-planned development, southwest of Denver. But these aren’t just any homes, they’re “smart homes” equipped with advanced water meters and other connected infrastructure, a home automation system and an app to control and track water use.
Rene Herrera who also works at Siemens at the Technology Integration officer for the Sterling Ranch project is working on building a mobile app called Steward that residents will use to track and manage water use.
“This is where you’ll be able to see your water metering data, electrical solar and gas and all that information will be translated in a fashion where users will be able to understand them…so not just kilowatt hours, it’s actual real dollar signs.”
Having all that data available to homeowners is crucial in efforts to conserve resources says Marty Skolnick who also works for Siemens Building Tech Division.
“The real benefit or one of the real benefits of a home automation system should be utility analytics and you should be able to reap behavioral information and make behavioral decisions based on that information.”
While Sterling Ranch had a vision for this connected community, they hired Siemens to build the tech. Skolnick’s team is creating a number of ways for residents to connect with information about their utility consumption, including water use, and to make decisions based on that data.Skolnick says the ability to monetize the data will make a huge difference in raising awareness about resource consumption.
“So knowing that I’m consuming 2k gallons of water is interesting but it’s meaningless. But if it’s monetized I know that it’s $128 a month that becomes more valuable because I can relate to it.”
But that’s the most basic level of water analytics happening at Sterling Ranch, Skolnick says. Taking that same data up a step and adding even more information means comparing a home’s water use against what it was a month ago or a year ago, and also comparing it against the neighbors.
“So now it becomes meaningful from a benchmark and measurement standpoint and it also has a little bit of a flavor of a competitive environment, right? Assuming you want to be a good steward of utility usage you’re going to pay attention.”
And that’s the goal: encouraging consumers to pay attention, and conserve, based on the data needed to make water smart decisions. Smart metering, similar to what Sterling Ranch has installed is also referred to as AMI or advanced metering infrastructure and is used widely by water providers to track data and better communicate with their customers says Jorge Figueroa a senior water policy analyst with Western Resource Advocates.
“You have meters sending data almost in real time or in real time about water use throughout the whole service area through cell phone towers to a water utility. It’s a very powerful data generation infrastructure because it allows water utilities to know very specifically how water is being used almost 24/7 across a service area.”
But that sea of data is only helpful if it’s being interpreted for customers and if water providers know how to use it says Figueroa.
“These devices and this AMI infrastructure can allow a water utility to let you know in real time if you’re watering very close to the drought restriction limits through your cell phone through a text message. You can adapt in real time and know that OK I can’t water anymore for the rest of the week or I’m going to be charged more.”
And water providers are ramping up their communications and sharing data to keep their customers informed and conscientiously conserving water. In Fort Collins, AMI is deployed throughout a portion of the city’s service area, where customers can access an app called Monitor-My-Use to review usage on a daily basis and access conservation tips. But many others are still connected to old water meters which is a barrier to good data collection says Brock Smethills, Chief Technology Officer at Sterling Ranch. He’d like to see current technology move even further—into predictive analytics, where the homeowner need only ask the app to manage their system and billing.
“Eventually where we’d like to get is where homeowners will be able to say ‘here’s how much I’d like to spend on water, how much I’d like to spend on gas, how much I’d like to spend on electric’ and have the home manage around it as opposed to the homeowner. If you look at home automation that’s really where it needs to go in order to make sense because then there’s a financial benefit tied to the installation of the hardware.”
But beyond money saving, advanced metering could have larger implications when it comes to climate change and our uncertain water future. Figueroa says these type of analytic tools could be the backbone for the climate resiliency of the future, but in the meantime, this at-home water data makes us more resilient, and informed as we manage our water today.
Connecting the Drops is a collaboration between Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, find out more at yourwatercolorado.org. Support for this piece is provided by CoBank a national cooperative bank helping to provide financing solutions for rural water systems. Learn more at cobank.com.