All over the world water operators try to minimize their non-revenue water (NRW), water that is lost either from physical leaks or metering inaccuracies and fraud/theft. This NRW can lead to large amounts of lost revenues and indirectly leads to inflated drinking water prices for consumers. In (2019) Blicker worked alongside Vitens Evides International (NL) and Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) in Malawi to help solve the 30% NRW from the capital city’s 100.000 meters, providing insight into the application of Blicker in developing countries.
The cost of water in developing countries is relatively high compared to the average incomes in these regions, statistics from Wateraid show the cost of 50L of clean water is about 10-50% of a person's daily salary. This creates an unwanted incentive for theft and metering fraud, leading to increasing amounts of apparent NRW. Implementing the use of a photo for meter reading instead of manual entry creates a transparent data collection process with automated validation, reducing the possibilities for fraud/deceit. Based on three months of metering data, results from the integration of Blicker into the existing meter reading software are estimated to lead to a percentage point reduction of 4% in NRW which would convert into a 5.7% increase in revenue.
A study done by the WorldBank in 2006 estimated that worldwide, NRW causes losses of $14 Billion, a third of which occurs in the developing world. Even though things seemed to have improved over the last 14 years, NRW is still a huge issue amongst water providers today. Based on more data a recent study shows in 2018, the volume of NRW is higher than previously estimated and costs the industry approximately $39 Billion per year worldwide.
As a matter of fact, the issue of theft and fraud is something that is being faced not only by the water sector but by the utility industry as a whole. Especially in the energy grid, falsifying meter readings makes it difficult for providers to manage the grid efficiently, leading to increased amounts of surges and outages. Due to the growing size and complexity of these grids, implementing innovative practices is challenging. Getting a grasp on the missing and/or inaccurate data surrounding the issue will be the first step into the digital fastlane of the age of information technology.
Introducing the process of taking photos to (record) metering data, will indirectly also provide water operators (and others) with accurate information about the state of all the meters in the field. This information is used for efficient validation of the meter reading cycles as well as targeted and timely replacement of malfunctioning meters.