UK’s first ‘smart’ water meters being installed

| November 11, 2013


Thames Water is beginning a programme to install water meters at all the properties it serves.

Currently around 30% of its customers are on meters. By 2030 the company aims to have metered 100% of connections in its region.

The scheme, which is starting in Bexley, southeast London, will be the first in the UK to use “smart” water meters connected to a wireless network, enabling residents to monitor their usage online.

Thames Water will fully support customers to help them save water, energy and money. This includes giving everyone two years before they are moved on to a metered bill, unless they want to switch early and cash-in on the savings, and providing practical support including fitting free water-saving devices that can help reduce a home’s water use by up to a quarter.

The new technology gives customers more control over their water use, and it is hoped it will encourage the firm’s 3.5 million households to be more water-efficient in a region – London and the Homes Counties – described by the Environment Agency as “seriously water-stressed.”

Research has found that metered customers use water more sparingly than unmeasured customers: people pay for what they use, value what they pay for and so tend to use less.

The new meters being installed can automatically collect water usage data every 15 minutes, giving customers in-depth information on how much water they use, as well as more accurate bills.

They will also give Thames Water a more detailed understanding of where water is being used, and in what quantities, across its 20,000-mile network of water mains, enhancing its ability to pinpoint and tackle leakage.

Leaks on customers’ pipes account for a quarter of leakage in the company’s supply area.  So the meter installation will include an initial check for leaks. Meter readings will also be monitored automatically to detect any periods of continual usage (which often indicates a leak). Any leaks detected by these methods, or by customers themselves, will be repaired free of charge.

The company’s metering programme will be carried out borough by borough, with work starting in Bexley from early 2014. By mid-2015, 73% of customers in Bexley will have a water meter – up from 27% of homes today.

Bexley’s water supply comes from boreholes into groundwater feeding the River Darent, an important chalk stream supporting local wildlife habitats. Fitting more meters in the area should reduce the amount of water that needs to be taken from the boreholes and reduce pressure on the river.

Steve Plumb, Thames Water’s head of metering, said:
“We all have a vital role to play in reducing demand for water, but first everyone needs to understand what they are using. That’s why we’re fitting smart meters across our region as by knowing more we can all waste less.

“Our plan to meter all connections in our area was approved by the Government in June 2012 and we are now ready to start the roll out.  By using smart meters we will be putting our customers in greater control of their bills, using the most advanced technology.

“Britain is the only country in the developed world without universal water metering or a plan to achieve it.  With London being classified as ‘seriously water-stressed’ by the Environment Agency, and with customers using a third more water than they did 30 years ago, it is really important we act now.

“Metering is the fairest way to pay for water because you pay for what you use, value what you pay for and as a result tend to use water more efficiently.”

Howard Davidson, Environment Agency regional director, South East, said:
“It might be raining at the moment but there are times when water is scarce. Being aware of how much water we use is a key step in making sure that we don’t take any more than is necessary from the environment. We fully support the use of metering as it has been shown to reduce the demand for water.”

Alan Williams, Chairman of the Darent River Preservation society, said:
“We fully support the principle of water metering and other measures to reduce demand. Over the past decade we have worked very hard to restore the River Darent. We have achieved some improvements, and there is still more to be done to ensure that this beautiful river remains safe for generations to come.

“The water that supplies our homes and businesses, comes from the aquifers that feed the Darent and Cray. Using more water in our homes means less water for the river. So we support measures such as metering that will reduce water consumption, and can also help cut people’s water bills. We would urge everyone: use water carefully – it’s a precious commodity.”


Notes to editors

• Across the Thames Water region 30% of homes are already on a meter
• By 2025 Thames Water want to meter 80% of customers
• People in London each use 10% more water on average than people in the rest of the UK.
• On average Thames Water customers who already have ordinary water meters tend to have lower bills and use 12% less water.
• Thames Water forecasts show that if nothing is done to reduce water demand, by 2020 there will be a shortfall in the amount of water available. This shortfall will be 133 million litres per day, trebling to 414 million litres by 2040. This is equivalent to the water needed by two million people.
• London has less rainfall than Istanbul, only half as much as Sydney, and one of the highest individual levels of water consumption in the UK
• During very dry periods demand for water in London already exceeds what is available and this shortfall will increase as the population grows and climate changes
• Metering programmes are already under way in the neighbouring Southern and South East water company areas.
• The government has approved Thames Water’s Water Resources Management Plan which contains plans for the introduction of universal smart water meters. This was approved by the Department for Environment in June 2012. This initiative also has the support of the Mayor of London in his ‘Vision for London’ statement and from major environmental groups in the Blueprint for Water Coalition as well as the local River Darent Preservation Society.
• Where households find they are likely to face a higher bill due to their own usage or the number of people in the house, Thames Water will provide support and practical advice to help them reduce their water use. This includes providing, and even fitting, free water-saving devices that can help reduce a household’s water use by up to a quarter. Thames Water can also carry out home audits, to suggest other ways to save water, energy and money.
• Financial support and guidance will be available for customers who need it. Thames Water plan to introduce a new tariff to help people who most struggle to pay their bills, from 2015 in time for when customers will start to be transferred on to a metered bill.

Bexley smart water meters roll out

Thames Water’s metering programme will be carried out borough by borough, with work starting in Bexley from early 2014. Between February 2014 and March 2015 Thames Water aim to fit 43,000 meters in Bexley at houses, but only where it is possible both technically and cost effectively (including detached, semi-detached and terraced houses). In addition Thames Water will replace 2,000 existing meters in Bexley which were installed before 2010 with new smart meters. The aim is to start rolling this out to flats from April 2015.

The company will provide customers with the following support to give them time to understand their water use and charges, as well as take steps to save water:

• Two years to adjust – customers will not be moved on to a metered account until two years after their meter is activated
• ‘Take the credit’ scheme – customers who find their metered bill would be lower than their unmetered charges will have their account credited with the difference if they ask to switch in the first year
• Comparison bills for two years – we’ll send customers a series of comparison letters so they know exactly how much their metered bill would be, giving them the information they need to either save money straight away by switching early or to take action so you can reduce your bill in future
• Practical help to save water – Thames Water will provide and fit free water-saving devices
• Leaks found on customers’ supply pipes under gardens or driveways will be fixed free of charge
• Provide extra support and assistance for customers in genuine financial hardship


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