Townsville water trial a win for smart meters, smart cities

By GovTechReview Staff
Monday, 08 April, 2013

Queensland’s Townsville City Council and IBM have been recognised for a smart water-metering pilot program that combines big-data analytics with physical infrastructure rollout to deliver real-time usage information that the organisations believe will become a linchpin of tomorrow’s ‘smart cities’.

The Smart Water Pilot program, a part of the Townsville Dry Tropics Water Smart program, has so far seen 210 automated meter reader (AMR) systems deployed to homes around the north-Queensland city, with 155 meters in Aitkenvale and 55 in Bushland Beach.

Data from those meters is providing real-time information about customers’ water usage, with a supporting big-data component allowing local water authorities to analyse and relay this information to infrastructure managers and customers in real time. This information can not only be used to illuminate customers on their usage, but to help authorities identify underground leaks in water piping that often cause large amounts of water to be lost from distribution networks.

A similar program, run by IBM and the US city of Dubuque, Iowa, is credited with a 6.6% reduction in water usage through better water-consumption awareness, as well as an eight-fold increase in leak detection.

It is for this reason that the system was recognised with the Smart Infrastructure Project award at Infrastructure Partnerships Australia’s recent 2013 National Infrastructure Awards.

“There is enormous potential for significant social and economic benefits here in Townsville if the trial is successful,” said Townsville deputy mayor Cr Vern Veitch in a statement. “Townsville and IBM have worked very closely to design a trial that breaks new ground in the way the data is collected and analysed, to identify and enable ways of reducing water consumption and therefore costs to the community.”

The project leveraged an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant, received by Townsville City Council in 2011, which included a process review that recommended a number of options for improving the city’s automation using smart utility technologies.

Those technologies enable residents to “make informed decisions to reduce their water use,” Cr Veitch said. “The award sends a very strong message about how Townsville and the council are creating partnerships and leveraging the latest technology to benefit our community.”

The system also involved Australian digital meter manufacture Taggle.

“Using smart analytics, the system can proactively notify residents about issues such as leaks, which have previously been unknown,” Glen Garner, of IBM Australia’s Global Centre of Competency for Energy and Utilities, said in a statement. “This should lead to flow-on savings for the Council through reduced water treatment costs and deferral of capital investment.”

Townsville is one of just two Australian cities to participate in IBM’s Smart Cities program, which is limited to 100 sites around the world. The other Australian city involved – Geraldton, Western Australia – is working along similar lines and expects strong benefits from its efforts, particularly as the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout proceeds.

Both Geraldton and Townsville are early-release sites for that project, which Geraldton mayor Tony Brun previously told GTR would support the IBM Smart Cities work to make it a powerhouse in local-government innovation.

“What we’re hoping is that we’ve got the foundations of the economy being an innovation and ideas economy that can grow,” Brun said, “and that Geraldton can be a place where business can evolve purely based on innovation and ideas. [IBM Smart Cities] is a good brand to be associated with, and it’s a brand we hope we can use and market quite extensively in terms of who and what we are.”

An additional 90 meters will be installed this month as the Townsville program continues to expand. – David Braue

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