The industry spin spruiking the benefits of smart meters has now seduced Australian water utilities.
Coliban Water, a regional Victorian water authority with a service area encompassing 49 towns, has bravely commenced on a six-year rollout of wireless smart meters to all residential and non-residential customers.
Coliban Water’s Summer 2017- 2018 Customer Update leaflet and Digital Meterswebpage coyly refer to the new equipment, which is to be installed on existing water meters, as ‘digital’ meters. There is no mention of the fact that radiofrequencies – and more specifically, microwaves – will be used as the means of transmitting data from these ‘digital’ meters to network gateways, and from there on to telecommunication towers.
Only those customers keen enough to click on its ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ will be alerted to the technology underpinning the rollout. Naturally, the public is assured that the digital meters do not pose a health risk to customers or the community as the battery-powered meters transmit data every hour through low level radiofrequency waves, which “are well within Australian safety standards”.
Sadly, the Frequently Asked Questions webpage does not also inform customers that Australia’s radiofrequency standard is not fit for purpose. Or that 24/7 hourly radiofrequency transmissions impact, not only humans, but also the environment. The rollout of smart meters and gateways, which is reported to be using LoRaWAN network architecture operating in the same crowded spectrum as Australia’s mesh electricity smart meters, will add another ubiquitous layer of electro-pollution.
It appears that the public is to be stung again by an essential service provider. Whilst Coliban Water states that it is installing the digital meters because it is “always looking for innovative ways to identify cost savings and network efficiencies for our customers”, it remains to be seen how many customers might welcome the possibility of Time of Use tariffs; these have been flagged in Coliban Water’s Pricing Submission 2018 to the Essential Services Commission as being a vehicle to “empower customers”. Time of Use tariffs have been a resounding failure with Victorian electricity customers.
Other Australian water service providers are also keen to go down the wireless smart meter path. Western Downs Regional Council, in Queensland, received funding to replace its water meters with smart meters. Cairns Regional Council announced in June 2017 a $15.9 million project to install smart water meters. Melbourne water utilities City West Water, South East Water, and Yarra Valley Water are reported to have undertaken in-field ‘digital’ water metering trials.
Members of the public have until Friday, 9th March to give feedback on Coliban Water’s 2018 price proposal. If you think the costs and benefits of Coliban Water’s ‘digital’ meter deployment don’t stack up, this is your opportunity to have a say. As an alternative to using Engage Victoria’s form for making your submission, the Essential Services Commission has confirmed that comment can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org until Monday 12th March 2018.
A sign to print out and put beside your water meter is available here.
It appears that water corporations have failed to heed the lessons learnt from the Victorian electricity smart meter debacle.
Nine out of seventeen water utilities in Victoria are contemplating, or have started, smart water meter rollouts. The water businesses seem to be under the collective delusion that re-badging smart meters as ‘digital’ meters, ‘intelligent’ meters, or ‘data loggers’ will be the game-changer that allows them to avoid the Victorian electricity smart meter stigma.
Final pricing decisions handed down by the Essential Services Commission (ESC) for each of the corporations revealed an abundance of dubious claims made by water utilities about smart meters. These include:
- Digital metering will contribute to “efficiency savings and lower costs and customer prices”.
(Really? Perhaps the utility propagating this myth should read what the Auditor Generalhad to say about Victoria’s costly rollout of electricity smart meters.)
- Had “strong customer support for digital metering”.
(Does it? That’s news to us! SSMA also wonders if this utility has strong customer support for increased pulsed microwave irradiation of their properties and communities?)
- Customers have requested digital water metering to enable them to “better monitor and manage their water consumption”.
(Exactly how difficult is it to walk out to one’s water meter to check usage? Victorian electricity customers have hardly fallen over themselves to access on-line consumption data. According to the 2015 technical study commissioned by the Victorian government, the capability included with Victorian smart meters to enable energy management via Home Area Networks “is rarely employed at present”.)
A snapshot in regard to the utilities in Victoria that are tangoing with smart meters follows:
Barwon Water is “commencing a transition to digital water meters, by starting with a trial project at Colac”.
Central Highlands Water has proposed “a full roll-out of digital meters across its entire water supply network, to be completed within the 2018–23 period. It has completed a proof-of-concept trial and has demonstrated strong customer support for digital metering”.
City West Water has “uncertainty in timing, cost, scope or benefits” of a smart meter rollout. However, its webpage states that it is “working with South East Water and Yarra Valley Water to explore digital water metering”.
Coliban Water, in response to a number of submissions from the public to the ESC expressing alarm about its intended rollout, has committed to undertake an independent peer review to confirm whether the rollout should continue. It has also “sought to address concerns by developing a policy for the conditional opt-out from digital meter installation for customers with genuine health concerns and for the voluntary take-up of time-of-use tariffs”.
Goulburn Valley Water is “introducing digital services in response to feedback that customers value real time notifications”.
GWMWater plans to improve outcomes for customers by “extending digital metering from rural to urban customers, contributing to efficiency savings and lower costs and customer prices”.
North East Water “has $1.00 million of capital expenditure for a smart water meter trial. Its customers [we doubt it] requested smart water meters to enable them to better monitor and manage their water consumption.”
South East Water: “has established an appropriate set of criteria to evaluate its digital meter pilot program before preparing a business case to proceed with a broader roll-out.”
Yarra Valley Water: “advised it would undertake a digital water metering pilot.”
For previous posts on this issue, see:
Water authorities rolling out wireless smart meters!
Smart water meter “trials” have commenced!
Victorian water corporations are entirely owned by, and report to, the Victorian Government. If you wish to raise concerns about the rollout of smart water meters in Victoria, write to the Hon. Lisa Neville, Minister for Water: email@example.com
Make sure that you also copy in the Managing Director of your own water utility!
“There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up.”