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Realtime Home Water Metering

A prototype water meter with iOS app showing instant usage

Photo of Martyn Griffiths
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How are you connected to Sunnyvale?

  • I live in Sunnyvale.

What type of applicant are you?

  • Community member

Stage of Development.

  • Idea with a working prototype

What problem are you aiming to solve? (100 words)

The eminent Peter Drucker said “you can't manage what you can't measure”. Individuals can't manage water use when the sampling rate is once every 2 months! Fast feedback results in better regulation.

Tell us more about your climate strategy or solution (500 words)

This idea is not an attempt to mitigate climate change; emissions reduction and CO2 sequestration will do that. However increasing awareness of our own water use in this desert climate is essential in making us adapt to the new normal of less fresh water compounded by an ever increasing population. The development and adoption of realtime water usage in Sunnyvale I believe would give us, and other adopting cities, invaluable insight.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (100 words)

Living in a desert climate for the past 25 years I have been interested in understanding exactly how much water I use on a daily basis, where I use it, and answering the question "Am I wasting it?". A low cost personal water meter would, in my opinion, have a huge impact in reducing residential water use by adapting lifestyle, and leak detection throughout California and other states suffering from drought.

Explain how your idea would be implemented in Sunnyvale (700 words)

1. Use off the shelf water meter with digital output. 2. Productionize acquisition unit. 3. Run a pilot project of say 100 homes using volunteers. There are a number of parts to the project. Step 1. Data Acquisition Monitoring water flow requires the following parts. 1. A water meter with a 1/10 gallon pulsed output. More research required here for lower cost meter. 2. A low cost IOT processor - for example Particles’ Photon, ESP8266 etc Step 2. Data storage and display Particle (, and other companies ( promoting IOT solutions provide platforms upon which to base scalable solutions ranging from one IOT sensor to many 1000’s. The realtime acquired data would be available only to the owner of that data. Aggregated data would also be available as a graphical overlay showing home owners their usage relative to their neighbors (zip). As the system grows other statistics could be displayed like zip to zip comparisons etc, integration with Alexa and similar smart speakers. Step 3. Rolling out Pilot 1. Seek volunteers. 2. Install meters. Step 4. Evaluate and Refine

What kind of impact will your idea have? (250 words)

CO2 mitigation: more efficient use of water will reduce the energy/capita required to pump it to the faucet. Numbers unknown but a small part of the total energy budget; small impact. Fresh water conservation: more efficient use of fresh water will conserve an increasingly precious resource allowing your reservoirs/aquifers to recover, keep our fresh water flowing, and costs stable; huge impact.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of people affected. (250 words)

The market, I believe, is huge. Fresh water management will effect everyone's lives as the commodity gets scarcer. People are increasingly interested in ways to reduce their environmental impact and are likely to want to participate given the tools to do so.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (500 words)

This is a work in progress. What I find so surprising is that one of our most precious resources is the one utility that isn't smart-metered. Maybe the question should be "How do we make it feasible?" I shouldn't really have to make my own water meter to get the data I need, it should be the responsibility of the water authorities or those that govern them. To date I have built a working meter using an OTS mechanical meter with a digital output coupled with an Arduino Uno to capture and transmit the data to an iPhone where the usage is display and logged over a 2 month period. Originally I used a third party to store and display the data; Xively until they stopped my free account. I have started to port things over to the Photon device and Particle's infrastructure in the hope they will encourage innovation at the grass roots. If a pilot program such as this can demonstrate and convince the city and county authorities that this is indeed a valuable tool in their conservation armory, then I believe we will have succeeded. They have the resources and considerably more man power to make such a change.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (300 words)

The project encompasses many skills, most of which I have to some degree, but spread thinly. Help is needed for the following: 1. Discovering/Innovating a low cost flow meter which can be installed quickly and cheaply to a home's mains water pipe. Ideally without cutting the pipe. 2. Selecting the IOT partner and developing the pilot program using their platform. 3. Someone/organization to take over the management of the concept. 4. I may have time to focus on the acquisition side.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with our partners?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Please refer to my profile.

Evaluation results

1 evaluation so far


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ursula Syrova

The Santa Clara Valley Water District offers rebates for conservation measures, and often a City will match those (e.g. the lawn turf conversion rebates matched by Sunnyvale during the drought and possibly still today). Perhaps they could establish a rebate for people who purchase smart water meter technology. SCVWD has a system of grants as well, although none that I looked up today seemed to quite fit the bill for this project.

Photo of Barbara F

Martyn Griffiths I think this is a great idea. You have identified an important need. I would love to have a way to track my water use in real time because that is when decisions could be made to reduce use.

My understanding is that the City wanted to do this, but the cost so far would be too high. It seems that the State is likely to start pushing water agencies toward real time metering, starting with cities with a lot of water leakage. (Sunnyvale does not have a lot of leakage.) As mass production gets underway, prices should come down. Meanwhile, intersted homeowners could consider purchasing one of the devices on the market.

Photo of Jérémie Gluckman-Picard

Martyn This is an interesting concept. Have you done some research on whether an app like this already exists? Look forward to learning more about your vision.