Digital Utilities and Carbon Reduction

The world is at a critical point in the battle against climate change. Left unattended, global warming will negatively impact life as we know it. This includes the availability of clean water and cheap energy, amongst other fundamental risks to safety and productivity.

State, national and globally-based carbon reduction schemes recognise that action is necessary to reduce carbon emissions and reverse the impact of climate change.

So, how do carbon reduction programs impact water, gas and electricity utilities?

Energy and carbon management go hand-in-hand.

Swift and comprehensive action is required; to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees as per the Paris Agreement, the world must reduce carbon emissions by 43 percent by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. The fastest, most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions are to:

  1. Reduce energy consumption
  2. Shift to green energy options such as solar or hydro.

“Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner Feb 2022

Via these strategies, individuals, businesses, and industry help the world to realise ambitious environmental targets. Regulators, meanwhile can incentivise necessary change with carbon credit schemes.

No matter how motivated by regulation, environmental or financial reasons, however, most consumers cannot manage their resource usage. The reason being: analogue metering infrastructure – which dominates the utility sector – cannot provide the required consumption data. Error-prone and resource-heavy manual meter reading processes and estimate reads make it impossible to adequately monitor, measure and manage consumption of our most precious natural resources.

The world’s largest source of carbon emissions is the energy sector. Responsible for more than 70 percent of emissions, not only is the energy sector the largest polluter, but it is a conduit to every household and business. Today, approximately 80 percent of water, gas and electricity utilities remain on analogue infrastructure, reducing the capability of households and businesses to either reduce consumption, or shift to green energy options.

How Remote, Digital Utility Meter Reading Supports Carbon Reduction Strategies

Sustainability starts with visibility into consumption. By logging water, gas and electricity consumption data at routine intervals, and by sub-metering all energy and water consuming assets, SNAPI, like smart meters (SM’s), provides the visibility required for:

  • Monitoring and measuring consumption
  • Sub-metering to calculate consumption and carbon emissions at the asset-level
  • Quantifying emissions for carbon credit schemes
  • Introduce flexible tariff pricing, including low-cost “solar sponging” tariffs that incentivise usage to daytime hours, when solar and clean energy options are in abundance
  • Calculate carbon footprints and enact green policy interventions on an industrial scale
  • Empower consumers to reduce their energy consumption for financial or earth-conscious reasons.

Today, approximately 80 percent of water, gas and electricity utilities remain on analogue infrastructure, reducing the capability of households and businesses to either reduce consumption, or shift to green energy options.

Utilities and their customers also share more than 70 other benefits attributable to digitisation, including cost savings, customer service improvements, and energy theft or water leak detection.

Indeed, everyone benefits from a cheaper, more efficient energy sector.

The Digitisation Challenge for Utilities

In late 2022, the AEMC released a Draft Report into Smart Meter Policies. AEMC modelling demonstrates the faster the utility reaches 100% digitisation, the sooner cost savings are realised by the customer and suppliers. These savings accrue, year on year. Yet, despite Government mandates for SMs in 2016, approximately 70 percent of Australia’s energy sector (outside Victoria) remains on analogue infrastructure.

A raft of issues have contributed to the failure to implement smart meters. This includes massive cost, complexity and an inconvenient interruption to ‘business as usual’ for the utility. The failure to digitise contributes to further ongoing issues for the utility, their customers and regulators. One key issue is a lack of accurate consumption data for analytics and reporting, including carbon credit schemes.

Meanwhile, massive energy is expended to supply, treat and use water. Water-oriented strategies including water preservation will, therefore, result in significant reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the water industry has a central role to play in emissions reduction. This is especially true in Australia where water scarcity impacts critical industries like agriculture.

How to Digitise Utilities without Delay

In November, the AEMC published a draft review of the Regulatory Framework for Metering Services.

In the interest of establishing a more efficient and a lower-cost energy system, the AEMC recommends the smart meter rollout be accelerated to achieve a ‘critical mass’ of data access.

Both the AEMC and ECA have identified the benefit of a holistic ‘ecosystem’ approach to digitisation. This refers to digitisation via alternative methods in addition to SMs. The Report states “smart meters will be just one source of services and data across the distribution network to deliver the benefits of the future grid. From Draft Report to Final Report, the Commission would like to continue an open engagement on what the future grid could and ideally should look like concerning ‘all of the above’ devices — not either/or.”

SNAPI’s snap-on AI Meter Reading device can be installed on analogue metering infrastructure in less than 10 seconds. It can be installed on a routine meter reading run without need for downtime, and with minimal training.  Instantly, an analogue meter is digitised, remotely capturing multiple daily snapshots with +99.9% accuracy.

This alternative, rapid deployment model makes it easy to integrate the physical requirements of digitisation strategies – the implementation of digital, remote meter readers – into ‘business as usual’. Further, cost are significantly reduced by removing capital expenditure required for hardware and the complexity of planning for SMs.

Digitisation of Utilities without the Cost

The AEMC’s November Report also priced the accelerated implementation of SMs. To reach 100% digitisation with smart meters by 2030 it will cost utilities an additional $120.7million over the next eight years – on top of a BaU investment of $2.48Bn.

By comparison, SNAPI’s Meter Reading as a Service (MRaaS) cost to utilities is less than existing manual meter reading expenses.

SNAPI, therefore, represents opportunity to transform existing manual meter reading costs into an equivalent OpEx digitisation cost. SNAPI achieves digitisation (and cost savings) a minimum of 5 years sooner than AEMC’s recommended accelerated SM rollout. Therefore, SNAPI can bring forward the benefits of digitisation sooner, and meanwhile, the utility can buy more time for a SM rollout, delaying a capital investment in SMs until hardware is more affordable.

The Holistic Approach to the Digitisation of Utilities Benefits All

Complimenting smart meter strategies and addressing the immediate need for digitisation at scale, SNAPI enables carbon reduction targets.

It’s primarily achieved with real-time consumption data at scale. Only data at scale empowers utilities and governments to provide consumer insights usage, and related carbon emissions. It’s this data at scale that warrants price incentives for utilities. Further, this data enables green policy interventions like carbon credit schemes and pricing tariffs which are proven to shift consumers to cheaper, clean energy options.

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