In light of periodic energy shortages and costs spikes, HP, Google, IBM and a host of other companies have pushed for the broad adoption of smart grid technology to measure usage, spot trends and help control energy costs. Now water may be the next major resource to get the smart grid treatment.
In a recent survey of more than 300 water utility managers conducted by database giant Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), 68 percent said they believe it is critical that water utilities adopt smart meter technologies. At least 36 states are projecting water shortages between now and 2013, according to a statement from Oracle.
Oracle also found most of the 1,200 U.S. consumers it surveyed felt water conservation was important to them. Specifically, 76 percent said they are concerned about the need to conserve water and said their behavior changes were motivated more by a desire to conserve than to reduce water bill costs. Seventy-one percent said having access to more detailed information about their water consumption would be a key factor in helping motivate their conservation.
IT analyst Charles King said he's not surprised Oracle would promote smart meter adoption for the water industry. "Someone on the back end has to crunch all the data, and now that Oracle has Sun it can make the case they have a hardware/software solution. IBM (NYSE: IBM) has been promoting the same thing," King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com. "Whether you're talking about electricity or water or some other utility, it's an enormously distributed, complex network of data."
How about smart pricing?
But Eric Wesoff, senior analyst with Greentech Media, said metering is only part of a solution and not the most important issue. "You can't have a smart water grid until you have smart water pricing. Today we have dumb water pricing," Wesoff told InternetNews.com.
"Water is priced so inexpensively, you can meter it all you want but without pricing intelligence there won't be any conservation," Wesoff added. That may explain why, in the Oracle survey, most consumers said cost-saving wasn't a prime motivation for them.
Wesoff suggests residential water should have a baseline price; X amount for the first few hundred gallons a week, for example, and then priced higher for anything beyond that to encourage conservation. Detailed information on use, such as a smart meter, would be more effective if consumers are faced with specific pain points, such as higher costs, said Wesoff.
On the electricity savings side a big issue for both consumers and IT Google's philanthropic arm, Google.org has developed a Web-based metering service called PowerMeter it hopes will be adopted by utilities and device manufacturers.
"Smart grid and smart metering has received a lot of buzz in recent months -- with electric utilities receiving most of the spotlight. However, water utilities also face aging infrastructures, sustainability challenges and customer demand for better service," said Stephan Scholl, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Utilities in a statement.
"Oracle's 'Testing the Water' report indicates that while water utilities realize that smart meter technologies can have a big impact on their business, there is a greater need to focus on consumer education and communication," Scholl added.
Alisa Mann, customer services manager for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, said Oracle's report shows the challenges and benefits of implementing smart meter technologies.
" we have learned that providing consumers with useful information about conservation really does drive behavior change," Mann said in a statement.