Smart Water Metering In India With LoRa Technology – All You Need To Know

By | April 25, 2018


smart water meter with lora technology


In Papua New Guinea, nearly 6 out of every 10 people do not have access to ‘safe‘ water. The corresponding stat for India stands at ~18% – which is still an uncomfortably high percentage. On the global scale, total water demand is expected to touch 6350 cubic kilometers by 2030 (i.e., 6.35e + 15 litres) – nearly 59% more than the cumulative water demand in 2000. Per capita water consumption hovers in the 85-100 gallon range (per day) – and across the world, problems related to water pollution, wastage, and consequent water scarcity are increasing. In a recent survey, it was found that >75% of people were not happy with the water resources available to them. Agriculture and irrigation contribute a significant chunk of the total water usage in many countries – and the fact that 85% households have little or no idea about automated rainwater harvesting tools further complicates matters. In such a scenario, it is vital to manage, use, transport and distribute water efficiently, and minimize water wastage. That is precisely the concept behind ‘smart water meters‘.

The water scenario in India is pretty grim too. A CWC report has revealed that 90+ important water reservoirs in the country are currently operating at only a quarter of their capacity. In a list of 180 countries ranked according to water availability, India comes in at a lowly 133rd (in terms of water quality, the situation is worse – with India rooted at the 120th position among 122 countries). Internet of Things (IoT) in general, and LPWAN in particular, are being deployed for the creation of smart water meters – to improve water productivity, monitoring and quality standards. SenRa is right at the forefront of smart water metering solutions in India – and in February, the company entered a collaboration with Nordic Automation Systems (NAS) for countrywide LPWAN implementation. Semtech’s LoRa technology is the best fit for such smart water meters, and over here, we will offer interesting insights on how the LoRaWAN protocol is powering smarter water management in India:

  1. Understanding the drivers of water scarcity problems in India

    In an ideal scenario, every Indian would have had access to clean water in adequate amounts. The truth is, sadly, far from such a situation – with almost 64 million people not having clean drinking water (according to a 2017 report). The rapid surge in population is causing total water consumption levels to go up exponentially, and the growing water pollution – caused primarily by industrial discharges and general waste disposal – is also a cause for concern. Man-made and natural disruptions in the water cycle are not helping matters either. There are many political as well as regulatory disputes too, regarding the provision/availability of water in specific regions. The total water required for irrigation is also increasing steadily – and since most farmers are not even acquainted with (forget using!) agritech tools and precision farming methods – there’s a lot of water wastage happening here as well. It’s high time more attention is paid on tackling these burgeoning issues – and usage of technology, in the form of LoRa-powered smart water meters, is going to be instrumental in this regard. The total investment required to manage the water problems in India is likely to be northwards of $14 billion.

Note: An optimally functioning smart water system will help in gathering critical real-time data, analyze issues, detect problems (say, leakages) promptly, and send notifications to concerned parties. LoRaWAN is ideal for transferring the water data over relatively long distances.

  1. Size of the Indian water sector and investment required

    The water sector in India is expanding at a rapid clip – and groundwater resources are getting depleted quickly too. As per reliable estimates, the total water demand will go up by ~32% from present levels by the end of 2050 – and if the current rates of water wastage persist, we might well be looking at a situation where the country is forced to import water (only 22% of the per capita water needs will be resolvable from the resources in the country, in 2050). Big investments are required to stop this bleeding – and ensure that water resources remain sustainable in the long-run. In European nations, the total investment on smart metering solutions is expected to touch the $8 billion mark by the turn of the decade. Similar investments are required in India too (given the relative ‘lack of technological preparedness’ in India, the required spending might be higher). Care has to be taken to make sure that the IoT smart meters installed at the utility endpoints deliver accurate and holistic information – ranging right from tracking chargeable consumption levels and detecting end point leakages/damages/losses, to understanding water consumption patterns and serving as ‘intelligent water regulators’ (with the help of built-in predictive analytics). Between 2015 and 2020, the total capital expenditure on Indian water infrastructure will increase by a whopping 83%.

Note: The Smart Cities Mission initiated by the Government of India – with the objective of developing 100 cities – is a praiseworthy endeavour. However, by January 2018, less than 5.5% of the project had been completed.

  1. Why use LoRa in smart water meters?

    Smart metering solutions must have the capacity of delivering small amounts of data over long distances (high coverage), and they need to offer good battery performance too. The power consumption levels need to be low, so that the operating expenses do not go out of hand. Management and maintenance of the deployed smart water meters have to be straightforward as well. LPWAN technologies are ideal for creating such meters – and LoRa technology offers several advantages over the other options. For starters, the built-in security of the LoRaWAN protocol (AES-128) is a big factor (neither Sigfox nor cellular standards can match this, while security standards vary in wifi or LAN setups). The open standard nature of LoRa technology and the increasingly strong ecosystem (LoRa Alliance has well over 500 members) also work in its favour. Unlike other technologies that use mesh networks (which typically pulls down battery performance and network capacity levels), LoRa uses a ‘star-of-stars’ topology – to deliver seamless long-range connectivity with battery preservation (the Adaptive Data Rate, or ADR, is crucial for this). In addition, the chirp-based spectrum of LoRaWAN delivers considerably higher communication range than the FSK (frequency shifting keying) modulation used in many other standards. The unlicensed 865-867 MHz ISM band is used in India for designing LoRa-based smart devices.

Note: It was announced earlier this month that IoTsens, a leading IoT service provider, had started using LoRa radio technology in its smart water platform in Spain (in collaboration with FACSA).

  1. Greater savings with smart water meters

    In 1951, the per capita availability of water in India was 5177 cubic meters. By 2050, that figure might very well drop to sub-1000 cubic meters, if the smart city developers do not start taking corrective measures quickly. At a time when the ‘real cost of water’ is going up at unprecedented levels and a major water crisis is right on the horizon – the significant savings made possible by switching to LPWAN-powered smart water meters seem all the more attractive. Thanks to the real-time leakage detection systems and notifications, a water meter can find and notify people about problems (say, a faulty toilet flush) immediately, so that the repairments can be made. The billing system can become more transparent and fair – with households having to pay only for the amount of water they use (instead of paying a flat-rate water bill, which is common in many buildings and high-rises). By optimizing water management, bringing down energy bills and minimizing additional sewage charges, smart water meter systems can reduce total water costs by up to 35%. The population is growing fast (projected to reach 1.7 billion in 2050), water costs in rural AND urban areas are going up – and if technology is not adopted quickly and optimally, things can very soon spiral out of control.

Note: Individual metering solutions decrease the amount of water that has to be sent to the distribution tanks. That, in turn, reduces both water consumption and water wastage.

  1. LoRa-based water meters are ideal for smart city setups

    Apart from offering more benefits than other LPWAN technologies, LoRaWAN-powered tools are also suitable in smart cities. The reason for this is simple: in a single network deployment, a large number of automated, ‘intelligent’ services – from smart metering tools and smart parking sensors, to smart street lights and smart environment trackers – can be delivered to end-users (i.e., the citizens). Instead of attaching specific gateway(s) with the different nodes, the LoRa standard allows water data (or any data, for that matter) to be received by multiple gateways. LAN, wifi, or even satellite connections can then be used to move the data from the gateways to the centralized network server (for further in-depth analysis). Spectrum inference, strong security assurance, and excellent long-range communication capabilities all combine to make LoRaWAN just the perfect LPWAN protocol to be used in smart water meters. What’s more, there are no needs of managing too many protocols, and the authorities can always keep track of of how the network/devices are being managed.

Note: A typical, full-featured LoRa system will have 4 key sections – the end nodes, the gateway, the network server and the application server.

  1. Components of smart water metering solutions

    Broadly classifying, a working smart water system powered by LoRa technology will have the following key components: first up, there is the LoRa gateway (300bps – 50kbps data rate; link budget 168 dB (max.)) – in charge of receiving water data from the endpoints (nodes), and sending them to the server (network overhaul). A wide range of pertinent metering data – like meter and billing details, energy snapshots, tamperings (if any), and transactional information – are obtained by the gateway. Next up are the actual meter pulse sensor(s), which receives data-pulses from the index and moves them to an automatic water reading (AMR) system for monitoring. Both inductive pulses and magnetic pulses can be picked up by the AMR. Finally, there is the cloud system (with the server having the operating system) – where web services are used to make data available for all authorized entities (on tablets, smartphones, computers, etc.). The cloud database has multiple levels of security (in many cases, as many as 5 security layers) – ruling out possibilities of data manipulation or access by unauthorized third-parties.

Note: With the help of LoRa technology, IoT developers can create high-performance, bi-directional, cheap devices for data retrieval from the sensors. These metering solutions typically have very high fault-tolerance levels.

  1. What is Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)?

    Manually visiting locations and taking readings from water meters is fast becoming an impractical, and unnecessarily time-consuming exercise. In addition, manual water meter readings also leave ample room for human errors to creep in. This brings into the spotlight the importance of AMIs, or Advanced Metering Infrastructure systems. These automated systems offer real-time data and analytics – and can be easily be used by administrative bodies, corporate organizations, and utility service providers. The data transfer mechanism in AMIs is completely secure – and they also help smart city developers to accurately predict water consumption and water loss amounts. In addition, since smart metering solutions (supported by LoRaWAN) collect and monitor data on a constant basis, consumer behaviour patterns can be detected – and behavioral changes (related to water usage) can be identified quickly. The SenRa smart water meter PoC has been presented in a city in central India (existing water meters were replaced with smart meters at 41 sites).

Note: In general, IoT in India is making rapid strides – thanks to the endeavour of big players like Tata Communications. From developing smart cities and planning automated emergency services, to smart meters (power, water, energy, etc.) and efficient asset-tracking & monitoring – IoT is moving everything to the next level.

  1. Market opportunities for LoRaWAN smart water meters in India

    With a proven coverage distance of 11-12 km, ~135 dBm receiver sensitivity, and minimal power consumption (sleep current lower than 2uA) – a LoRa module can indeed deliver a lot of value to water management and monitoring practices. The Indian market is, at present, cluttered with GPRS and FSK meter readers (together, they make up more than 70% of the smart meter market in India). Going forward, however, the presence of LoRaWAN water metering tools will be much stronger – with the technology set to power more than 50% meters by the next 3-4 years. The prime reason for this growth are the inherent shortcomings of the other connection technologies: with FSK meters, the communication range is relatively short, GPRS connections can suffer frequent network outages, and real-time data readings are not available in IC meters. LoRa technology is not bugged by any of these problems – and hence, the prospect of LoRa water meters in India in the foreseeable future appears bright.

Note: The three-day Smart Asia India 2018 Expo and Summit will take place in Bengaluru from the 4th of October. Apart from smart water metering, smart transportation, smart energy tools and other innovative IoT products will be exhibited at the event.

  1. Smart water meters vs traditional water meters

    Apart from the lack of real-time data, high maintenance costs, billing uncertainties and poor battery performance, traditional water meters (the ones that are still used at most places) have many other shortcomings – which smart metering solutions can effectively address. Both the capital expenditure and the operating expenditure of a LoRa meter are considerably lower, and the system can automatically detect theft attempts and/or tampering. The real-time automated reading capabilities are miles ahead of the error-prone manual readings from traditional meters – and cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) logic is used to deliver real-time data analytics. The amount of non-revenue water (unproductive water) becomes a lot lower too, after a user switches over to smart AMI meters. The end-to-end water consumption visibility to final users is yet another advantage. With advanced cloud computing, big data management and intricate algorithms, smart water meters can revolutionize the way in which water is used in India. A much more efficient and a much more cost-effective solution, that’s what they provide.

Note: OEMs have to pay particular attention to the amount of power that a LoRa smart water meter consumes in the ‘sleep’ and ‘standby’ modes.

   10. Collaborations are helping the growth of the ‘smart water sector’

Last September, SenRa was chosen by IoT service provider CharIoT for the deployment of a series of smart city services (water meters, smart parking solutions, smart public lights, and more). In fact, SenRa has plans to deploy LPWAN standards in 90+ Indian cities – bringing most of the country under effective IoT coverage. This February, CharIoT and SenRa joined hands to deploy the very first AMI Ultrasonic Water Meters (for living areas) of the country. Trimble started using LoRaWAN in its Telog 41 IoT water sensors since late-2016 (for efficient water measurement, management and analysis). SenRa also struck up a partnership with application enablement platform (AEP) Yodiwo in August 2017 – with an eye on speeding up the process of designing and deployment of smart IoT solutions customized for different verticals. Tata Communications, of course, is also working on a wide range of LoRa-based solutions in India. As more and more large players and enterprises join up, the IoT revolution in India (in general) and the ‘smart water sector’ (in particular) will further gather momentum.

Note: By 2020, the value of the Indian IoT market will be more than $15 billion. Between 2020 and 2025, the market will continue to grow at a CAGR of >53%.

    11. The AMR vs AMI debate

This is, in essence, a debate between water meters with one-way communication and two-way communication capabilities. Automatic meter reading (AMR) is often viewed as a ‘lite’ version of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) – with the former requiring, understandably, considerably lower investments than the latter. There is a school of thought according to which unidirectional AMR water grids deliver all that is required (leakage detection, accurate readings, automated bills) – and spending the extra bucks for bidirectional AMI systems is not required. However, this represents a rather myopic view of the state of affairs. The functionalities of LoRa-powered AMI water meters are much more advanced – and as technology evolves further and new monitoring techniques come into the picture – they will be able to deliver full value (AMRs will prove to be of limited usability in the long-run). AMRs serve the purpose for now, but AMI systems are definitely the future.

Note: Meters can remain submerged under water. In any case, they remain in close proximity to water. Developers have to ensure that this does not damage the irreplaceable system batteries in any way.

     12. The importance of data visualization

It’s all very well to create and deploy high-end smart metering solutions – but unless the average Indian is convinced about the benefits of the technology, adoption rates are likely to remain low. This is where the importance of water data visualization comes into the picture. With the help of figures and charts and graphs, people can check out their water usage over a specific period of time (say, weekly or monthly) – and get an estimate of their water bills. To keep the users motivated and responsible, the many advantages of water conservation and optimized water consumption can also be displayed. The data from the smart water sensors can be accessed by consumers on a dedicated mobile app (integrated to the platform). Communicating the importance of saving water and using resources smartly is important, and data visualization is an crucial tool for that.

Note: There will be more than 1 billion active LPWAN connections in the world, by 2021 (the 2014-2021 CAGR will be 205%). LoRaWAN will power a large percentage of these connections.

Thanks to strong governmental initiatives, increasing concerns for energy preservation, and rising demands for accurate billing – Asia-Pacific has emerged as the most quickly expanding market for smart meters in the world. In India though, the general lack of awareness about IoT is still a challenge (29% of SMEs and 18% of large enterprises have not even heard about IoT, while a further 15% and 27% (respectively) are uninterested). The fact that smart water meters are somewhat different to smart energy meters – the main power system(s) are not as easily accessible – also has to be considered.

Globally, the market for smart water metering solutions is estimated to move to just a tick under $8 billion in 2020. As the IoT market in India matures more, and people get more familiar with the concept and the advantages of LoRa smart meters – their adoption will soar here too. After all, IoT-powered water meters have too many benefits to be ignored!

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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