Towns in France are increasingly turning to smart water meters to help them identify and repair leaks.
A device attached to the meter sends out readings via radio wave twice a day, allowing clients and authorities to have a daily breakdown of their consumption, rather than taking readings once or twice a year.
Installation decided by local authority
The system could be of particular interest to second-home owners who will be able to track their usage and see whether they continue to use water while away from the property, meaning there could be a leak.
Read more: Smart water meters let households track usage in France
Individual property owners cannot, however, opt for a smart meter as the decision belongs to the local authority that manages the water supply.
Laure Simon, director of TéléO, water company Véolia’s smart meter project, said: “It’s not like the Linky for electricity, or the Gazpar smart gas meter, where there are decrees saying all meters must be smart.”
After 2022 was the hottest year yet recorded in France, she believes there is now heightened awareness of the dangers surrounding widespread drought, which the technology can help to mitigate.
“In the context of climate change, more and more local authorities are realising the smart meter is a tool for preserving resources,” said Ms Simon.
Read more: How France plans to tackle increasing water shortages
Text or email alerts of anomalies
Authorities have already chosen to transition to the technology for around half of the 1,500 contracts Véolia has. These range from villages to large urban areas such as Toulouse Métropole.
“We have three million smart meters out of the 6.5 million meters that fall under our contracts.
“We currently have tender offers out which could represent 1.1 million more smart meters if we win them all.”
Clients are alerted by text message or email if there is an anomaly that suggests there might be a leak somewhere in their home, and automatic daily readings can also make it easier to identify and locate leaks elsewhere in the network.
“We can see what we are putting into the network, and what people are using. If there is a large difference between the two, it means there must be a leak somewhere.
“When we use automatic readings for a contract, thanks to the leak alerts and subsequent repairs, we save around 2% of the annual consumption of the contract – 2% is a week’s-worth of water use.”
Read more: Water bills in France set to rise between 6% and 12%
‘We do not spy on people’s water use’
As with Linky meters, the idea of smart water readings is not without its critics.
Eau Secours 31, a Toulouse-based association which is active around questions of water management, has called the Métropole’s €15million investment in the meters a “waste of money”.
Its representatives wrote: “This subject is revealing of the forging ahead with technology, for economic and comfort gains which are far from evident, and which mainly go to large businesses and other multinationals.”
As for questions surrounding the use of personal data, it is twice encrypted, Ms Simon said, adding: “We never collect information about hourly water use, unless the client asks us to.
“We don’t spy on how people use water at home.”
Refusal means paying for a meter reading
The strength of the radio waves is also limited, particularly as the data are only transmitted twice a day.
According to Véolia, the waves emitted are equivalent to the remote control for an electric gate.
It is possible to refuse to install a smart meter, but this usually means paying for a technician to perform meter readings.
According to Ms Simon, “the number of people who refuse is very, very, minimal”.
Utility companies Suez and Saur have also developed their own smart meters that work in a similar way.
Saur told The Connexion it had equipped 600,000 households with smart meters, and plans to continue the roll-out.
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