Can something as simple as the water bill have a real impact on water conservation? Well that depends on if all the pieces of the puzzle come together to make the billing information a powerful tool. The power of advanced metering technology and the billing data for utilities that is now available is giving end users new insights into how they use energy, at what times of day and even down to the level of what specific equipment or appliances are drawing the most demand. However all of the information in the world won’t impact conservation unless this data is coupled with an individual or business’ ethical and (arguably more important) financial motivation to reduce.
So how can billing technology make a difference?
First, the value in advance billing solutions is that the information provided is more than just a flat consumption volume times a flat rate. The real power of billing information and data analytics exists when connections can be made between the processes and equipment that consume water, during peak times of water use, and, most importantly, the associated financial costs. The connection between water conservation and the bottom line is a fundamental requirement in order to encourage efficiencies and see widespread change.
Secondly, many billing technologies offer forecasting modules and reports that can help users predict how changes in behaviour will impact their bottom line. Specifically, the latest advancements in billing systems and software have the capability to track usage at a very small time interval, say hourly and demonstrate how small changes can result in cost savings in the future. These solutions not only provide these predictive capabilities, but the necessary reporting tools to measure results after initiatives have been implemented.
Finally, the water bill in and of itself provides a medium by which to communicate with the end customer. Whether it’s through a paperless bill, or other formats, the utility bill offers a regular, consistent way to talk to the customer about water consumption. It can be used to promote conversations about ‘environmental footprints’, water scarcity and changing regulations, and also to promote upcoming conservation programs. Education is a key component that can drive the ethical responsibility mentioned earlier, that is imperative in order to see real change.
However all of this technology doesn’t come without a cost. New meters and billing technology are often expensive, and as with any regulated utility, these costs are often passed on to the rate base. One way to manage the initial cost of handling more complex data is with a Managed Service solution. A Managed Service approach outsources different parts of the water life cycle including metering, data collection and the billing and invoice process while maintaining access to data and important customer contact points through the call centre. The water utilities are also in a position to look at the electricity industry, where advanced metering and complex billing technologies have been implemented, and take away learnings in order to reduce project costs and increase end user adoption and acceptance.
Chris Lewis is the Director of Market Development for Cognera Corp. Cognera offers proven, cost-effective billing and customer care solutions to enable Competitive Energy Retailers and Utilities to meet increasing customer demands and industry requirements.