Kitchen & Cooking

Can App-Enabled Smart Meters Solve the Water Crisis?

A Kickstarter-backed startup wants to help you conserve.

The FLUID Learning Water Meter with mobile app Credit: FLUID

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Water consumption is an increasingly important concern—not only for governments and manufacturers, but also for homeowners. Recently we've seen efforts to bolster efficiency standards for fridges, dryers, and dishwashers, but these programs are all about making the machines more efficient. What about the deeply ingrained cultural problem of usage habits? What about you?

It's a topic few people want to discuss, let alone think about. But the idea is pretty simple: Give people the means to conveniently monitor how much water they're using, and they'll be more conscious of their habits, thereby reducing consumption.

That's the thought behind FLUID, a new Kickstarter project that's being heralded as "the world's first learning water meter." The device snaps onto your home's water main and connects over WiFi to provide real-time water usage stats via an app on your phone or tablet.

FLUID doesn't just measure overall home water use; it can also identify the various fixtures and appliances that are drawing water, as well as how much water each one is consuming. You can use the FLUID app to learn the flow pattern of a given appliance, recording its usage "signature." That means everything from your shower to your dishwasher can be precisely monitored.

Here's how FLUID's Kickstarter page explains it:

"Once a signature has been recorded FLUID will identify every time that particular appliance or fixture is running and track its consumption. The end result is usage data that allows you to see how much water you're using for things like showers, laundry, flushes, dishwashing, lawn irrigation, etc."

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You can also use the FLUID app to set consumption goals and track progress. The app will even alert you with a notification if there's a leak or you've left the water running. The company notes that the device will pay for itself the first time it catches a leak.

That's all great, but there's one big problem: There isn't any solid evidence that consumer awareness of utility usage leads to reduced consumption.

In the late 2000s, utilities began installing "smart meters" in homes throughout the U.S. These little devices were exactly like FLUID, except they monitored energy instead of water. Fifty million of these things have been installed, and the results have been, well... disappointing at best.

Of course, those meters didn't have the slick app that FLUID is built around, and ongoing drought in places like California means water usage is a far more urgent concern than power consumption in many parts of the country. FLUID will likely find a niche among buyers who are already water-conscious, even if it doesn't catch on in the broader market.

But first, FLUID needs to reach its current funding goal. Prospects look good: At the time of this writing, the project had more than $82,000 on a $95,000 goal, with 21 days to go.