With water consumption in Australia routinely exceeding the country’s capacity to rely on freshwater supplies, water scarcity is a massive challenge for the Australian government, its water utilities and its population. We talked to Alan Bailey, our Melbourne based Customer Success Manager to learn about the country’s water challenges; discover what measures are currently in place, and what more can be done to protect the country’s precious water supplies.

When it comes to water supply and demand, what are the main challenges Australia faces?

There are two key challenges – the first is our climate. Droughts are prevalent in parts of Australia. The Millennium Drought in the 2000s affected most of southern Australia, placing a large percentage of the population on water restrictions. The second challenge is that we have an ageing water infrastructure with many pipelines reaching the end of their life cycle. Addressing the aging infrastructure is fast becoming an urgent issue with pressures such as our growing population and the rise in the number of single-person occupied homes compounding the issue further.

What measures have been put in place to help deal with these challenges?

Some water utilities are protecting their infrastructure from further deterioration by optimizing the performance on the network – reducing high demand by regulating when large businesses use water. Other measures include a big focus on drought proofing, such as laying drought proof grass that needs minimal watering on sports fields and pitches, and promoting water saving appliances. Many products are now rated and labelled for water efficiency, and as a result more households are adopting water-saving features, from shower heads that regulate flow to dishwashers that use just 12 litres of water a load – that’s 10% of traditional rinsing and washing.

Are domestic consumers aware of the water shortage challenges and steps they can take?

Climate change and water awareness is a big topic in Australia. We’re all aware that we have holes in our ozone, the reefs are dying, and water security is being challenged by unpredictable rainfall and droughts. The utilities are certainly driving education through mainstream campaigns and programs – for example here in Victoria, the city of Melbourne has gone as far as putting targets in place to reduce daily water consumption to 155 litres per person – that’s well below the national average of 340 litres!

What more can be done?

There’s still a lot more that can be done and a big part of that is helping people to understand their water consumption. It’s hard to expect people to take action to reduce their usage if they don’t know how much they’re using and where they’re using it. Digital metering will certainly help as pilots/trials and rollouts get underway. This will give utilities the data needed to work with customer engagement specialists like Advizzo.

With digital meter data we can provide personalized and tailored communications to households, revealing how they’re using water, providing comparisons to similar households and showing better ways of using water. Of course, utilities will also be able to use digital meter consumption data to help detect and remedy leaks and problems at individual properties.

How important is customer engagement in the drive to reduce water consumption?

Customer engagement, and more importantly, personalized engagement, is absolutely key. At present, most households get a bill every three months, but they need help in understanding their consumption and how it compares to other households. More regular communications will help raise awareness of and interest in consumption levels, and they can also be used to help promote the customer benefits of digital meters – as and when a utility has the approved funding to roll them out.

Advizzo is currently working on a customer engagement project with Yarra Valley Water in Melbourne – how is that progressing?

It’s very early days. We are sending regular communications to about 1.5k people on a digital meter trial, but we really need more data and a longer period of time before we can assess the impact of behavioral change on consumption.  We’re looking forward to continuing our work with Yarra Valley and its customers, and being able to get some comparative seasonal data to work with, to be able to demonstrate that behavioral science based customer engagement really does drive down water consumption. The early qualitative results are very encouraging and we expect a very successful program!