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Chiefs of the West Australian Water Corporation have told the state's parliament they will never see a return on investment from a roll-out of smart water meters, despite impressive results produced by trials of the devices.
Water CEO Susan Murphy said a two-year pilot, which saw nearly 28,000 smart meters installed in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder region, hammered home the expense of such an initiative.
“The meters are orders of magnitude more expensive than the normal meters,” she said.
“One of the problems is that the water you save will never pay off the extra cost of the meter in the life of the meter. Water is a very low-price commodity.”
The agency's COO Peter Moore said a traditional water meter costs the organisation around $50, while a smart meter is another $100 on top of that, before the network infrastructure costs are added.
“Most of the price differential is not about putting the smart meter itself in, it is in the communication [infrastructure] to get that information from there back to wherever you want it," Moore said.
“To get that signal back, at the moment you have to have a collection mechanism that inputs information back through the computer system on top of a pole somewhere relatively close to a number of meters.
“We are looking at ways we could this more cheaply."
The utility's concern comes despite the impressive results obtained from the Kalgoorlie trial, which saw overall water use in the hard-to-service area drop by just under 11 percent, or 38,000 litres per household.
The system used in the trial allows Water Corporation teams to remotely track usage and offers hour-to-hour updates to consumers via an online self service portal.
More regular monitoring allowed the Water Corporation to spot non-stop flows indicating a leak at one in five participating properties. Just one of these would have wasted 1.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water if it had been allowed to continue through a regular two-month metering cycle.
WA Water Corporation has since installed another 14,000 smart water meters in the Pilbara region, but has not given any indication it will commence a state-wide roll-out.