Smart Acts: data’s powerful influence on behaviour
03 September 2020
Across Australia, smart water monitoring continues to grow (Beal, 2014) and utilities are increasingly recognising its benefits in terms of infrastructure management and customer engagement. From identifying leaks to monitoring quality, smart water networks undoubtedly bring rich opportunity for creating efficiencies within existing infrastructure, an obvious appeal for Australian water utilities facing today’s challenges.
But can we use data from smart monitoring to affect change when it comes to one of the biggest hurdles around water – getting people to use less of it. The answer, it would seem, is a resounding yes.
As a society, we’re relying on technology more and more for connection. When we want information, we’re used to pretty much having it at our literal fingertips (Deloitte, 2018).
Sean Cohen, Senior Manager, Smart Water at SUEZ believes that done right, tapping into that interest in technology and data could be key to helping people make informed choices about water usage and sustainability.
“People are without doubt interested in water use, but most wouldn’t know what their daily use is. But, then it was the same with daily step counts before fitness trackers,” he says.
“What we need is the 10,000 steps equivalent of daily water use, and I believe if utilities get on board, we can make it happen”.
They say knowledge is power. Internationally, intelligent use of smart monitoring has already been proven effective in influencing water usage behaviour, resulting in significant savings.
Singapore’s National Water Agency, PUB, is using data on water usage patterns and what motivates water-saving behaviours to customise programs that educate, engage and motivate households to embrace water saving in the home, with encouraging results.
Its 2015, the Smart Shower program saw 530 households fitted with smart shower devices and allocated one of a range of water consumption targets to achieve per shower. During showers, the devices displayed the volume of water used, along with an animation of a polar bear which would melt into the background if the target consumption was exceeded.
Results showed water consumption was reduced by 10% when users could see real-time feedback, and a moderately ambitious goal proved the most effective in motivating the households to achieve the goal.
The following year, in partnership with SUEZ, PUB embarked on a 2 year pilot study, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) WaterGoWhere. The project used customer data to develop a mobile app game ‘WaterGoWhere’ to engage residents with water conservation, with a focus on customising to the individual user.
The app notified residents when there were leaks and gave real-time usage data, which in itself helped them reduce consumption. In addition, by using smart meters and data analytics, the system detected consumption patterns in the household and pushed customised challenges with points and level status.
Again, the results were impressive, with water savings of 5%, or 6.9L per day per capita.
PUB has since gone on to launch both the Smart Shower program and the WaterGoWhere program in other areas of Singapore and, should the results continue to show promise, look to expand on a much larger scale in the near future.
Clearly, monitoring water use works when it comes to motivation and influencing behavioural change. As more smart meters are rolled out across Australia, utilities could look to take that interest and use it as part of their education programs, and working collaboratively, perhaps even elicit a new ’10,000 steps’ water equivalent.
“As an industry, we need a response that focuses on empowerment through knowledge, awareness-raising and education, until water conservation becomes another aspect of Australian culture and part of who we are” says Cohen.
“We need to get people thinking the same way about water as they do about recycling since War on Waste”.
Smart metering could be the way to get people to pay attention, but it may take a united effort from utilities to elicit such a cultural shift. Historically, the water industry has been open to information sharing, and excels in communicating, without competition. This could stand it in good stead when it comes to educating the masses on the limited resources we have and the environmental impact of their behaviour around water saving.
Data collected from smart water will also help utilities make better connections with the people they service, allowing them to provide information that’s personalised and useful to them.
“Relevant data gives you the ideal opportunity to connect with your community – and it’s not just the big stuff. Being able to let someone know you’re fixing a burst water main on the route they usually take to work – that’s how you move beyond being just the company who sends the bill”.
When utilities think creatively, there’s a wealth of opportunity to use the data collected from smart monitoring, to have a real influence in empowering customers towards water conservation. It’s that influence that Cohen suggests could be gold for water utilities.
Says Cohen, “Long-term forecast: we will use less water forever. How great would that be? I think we can do that”
Beal, C. &. (2014). Australasian Review of Smart Metering and Intelligent Water Networks. Water Services Association of Australia .
Deloitte. (2018). Mobile Consumer Survey.