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Oracle takes the measure of smart metering technology

Oracle’s recent survey shows that smart metering technology would encourage many water utility managers to conserve, perhaps edging the company toward a new market opportunity.

Oracle appears poised to jump into the smart grid business, but instead of pursuing opportunities having to do with saving electricity, it will focus on water conservation.

The company recently released the results of a research report entitled “Testing the Water: Smart Metering for Water Utilities,” which surveyed more than 1,200 consumers and 300 water utility managers in the U.S. and Canada.

The survey showed that some 68% said it was critical that water utilities adopt and implement some sort of smart metering technology. The overwhelming majority said water conservation is important to them, with some 76% saying they are concerned about the need to conserve water, indicating that their behavioral changes would be inspired more by the need to conserve than by a reduction in their water costs.

A little over 70% said that having access to more detailed information about their water consumption, which smart metering technologies could give them, would be an important driver in helping them to conserve.

“A lot of people feel smart [grid] technologies that apply to the electrical industry can also apply to the water industry, and we are in a position to provide them with a number of our SOA products and Fusion Middleware,” said Guerry Waters, vice president in charge of industry strategy with Oracle Utilities.

Waters pointed out that the early implementations of smart metering technologies are monitoring only small amounts of data. But as the number of implementations rises dramatically over the next few years, the amount of information will mushroom.

“The stress will come from the large amounts of data that will have to be managed," Waters said. "Right now, technologies are doing once-a-month readings responsible for small files sizes. But over the next few years, we are talking about a company with hundreds of sensors in place that will be metering things every 15 minutes, and then having to analyze and manage and store that data.”

While the good news is that water utility managers and consumers are willing to adopt smart metering technologies, the bad news is that the implementation of these technologies has barely begun. According to the survey, while 68% believe it is critical that water utilities adopt smart metering technologies, only about 30% say they are actively considering implementing them.

Another drawback to making a financial commitment is lack of visibility concerning ROI. Some 46% cited the “lack of cost recovery or measureable return on investment” as a roadblock, while 42% cited upfront utility expenses as a deterrent to implementation.

Despite the upfront costs associated with implementing smart metering technologies, some users are hopeful that many will see the long-term financial benefits.

“Cost is an enormous factor, but many water utilities fail to see the huge impact smart meter technologies can have on their bottom line," said Alisa Mann, customer services manager, Las Vegas Valley Water District. "It’s not just about reducing truck roll, it’s more about helping customers improve efficiency throughout the business.”


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