Smart meter used in Olds, Alberta | Knowledge Hub | Circle Economy Foundation

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Smart meter used in Olds, Alberta

The town of Olds, Canada suffered from water loss at a rate far higher than the industry average—which has both environmentally and economically significant impacts. Water that is leaked from pipes, as it cannot be reused due to possible contamination. To address its high rate of loss, primarily from leakage, Olds installed acoustic leak sensors and smart water meters. By using the data from sensors placed throughout the distribution system, town officials were able to quickly detect and repair leaks in old and failing infrastructure. The new programme ultimately saved close to 300 000 cubic meters of water from being wasted. 


Water leakage is a common problem: more than 32 billion cubic meters of treated water leak from urban water supply infrastructure each year, amounting to billions of euros of lost revenue. This problem was particularly prescient in Olds, Alberta, where the water ‘bought’ by the town and the amount billed to residents for what they used differed by approximately 260 000 euros per year. This amounts to a loss of more than 40%—far higher than the industry standard, which expects losses between 11 and 15%. Loss can be attributed to a number of issues: leakage, inaccurate meters, illegal connections and theft. In general, aging water infrastructure leads to frequent leaks, which is problematic around the globe. In Olds, leakage was found to be the primary problem—during the initial leak detection phase of municipal measures enforced to address the issue, loss decreased by 20%. A number of problems arise from leaks: environmental, economic and health-related. Water is wasted at high volumes, which is detrimental to communities (particularly where water availability is scarce), and the companies that supply it are impacted financially. Bacteria and viruses—or other contaminants found in the ground—may also work their way into pipes when leaks occur, contaminating water supply.


Olds installed acoustic leak sensors and smart water meters from Itron, a company specialising in technology-driven solutions to loss-related issues. Leak sensors were implemented throughout the town’s distribution system on water service pipes, typically close to existing meters. By analysing daily sound patterns, the sensors can detect new and pre-existing leaks in the infrastructure. The municipality also began to depend on a web-based system from Itron for leak monitoring, which displays and analyses the data gathered by the sensors. The web interface displays the location of leak sensors using GIS and satellite mapping images, indicating the placement and severity of the leaks and thus allowing department officials to quickly flag and repair problems.  


In just the first six months of the system’s implementation, Olds was able to repair 21 leaks resulting in the recovery of 287 691 cubic meters of water—saving about 115 000 euros in the process. Since the project was completed, non-revenue water losses have decreased by 10%. The Itron system has proved to have further benefits: the ability to monitor incoming data from sensors remotely has allowed the town to discern loss ‘patterns’ within the distribution system—in other words, specific locations where leaks are more likely to occur. Anomalies related to seasonal changes in water use can also be identified, facilitating proactive repairs and preventative measures. The constant data from the sensors can be compiled over the years to provide a comprehensive assessment of the water distribution system’s status, which will provide benefits well into the future. 

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