Sabbath-observant meter keeps water flowing 24/7

Residents of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods balked when smart meters were installed because they ‘violated’ Shabbat – so Arad Technologies came up with one that didn’t

Screenshots of Arad's new app and web interface (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Screenshots of Arad's new app and web interface (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Smart metering – the ability to constantly monitor usage 24/7 – has come to the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak in central Israel. But those meters take a rest on Shabbat, thanks to an Israeli water tech company, Arad Technologies.

“Our ‘glatt [super-kosher] water meter’ overcomes the problem of a smart water meter operating on Shabbat,” said Tal Tzur, VP Software & IT at Arad. “It allows us to install modern equipment in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to help save water, prevent leaks, and save money for residents.”

Tal Tzur (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Tal Tzur (Photo credit: Courtesy)

It also alleviated a situation, said Tzur, in which residents of places like Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, Safed, and Bnei Brak were planning to do without tap water on Shabbat in order to avoid violating the sanctity of the holy day.

While water metering sounds like an old-tech industry, it is actually on the leading edge of technology. With wifi connections and GPS chips built into meters, servers can now gobble up endless reams of data about water usage. While in the old days, the water company would send out a meter-reader to see how much water a household or business used, smart monitoring technology allows the water utility to keep a constant eye out on water usage.

“Water is more expensive than ever, and ensuring a steady supply of clean water is more of a challenge, as populations grow and industry expands,” Arad vice president Rami Ziv told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of a huge WaTec (Water Technology and Environment Control) exhibition in Tel Aviv this week. “Smart metering is an important way to get water usage under control.”

With a smart meter installed at a water facility, a utility can keep an eye on field installations and get an alert if water usage goes above a certain level. The same holds true for a home user; if water usage seems too high, the utility can contact the customer and ask them if a faucet was left on accidentally, or help to uncover an unknown leak. Smart meters can also detect if someone is tampering with the water infrastructure – illegally tapping into it in order to steal water, for example.

Ziv said water utilities in most Western countries lose an average of about 20% of water from their systems, and developing countries in Africa and Asia along the lines of 50%.

Smart metering, though, can solve that issue. In the central Samaria town of Ariel, water losses to the municipal system used to average around 18%; today, after the installation of Arad smart meters, said Ziv, the city loses just 3.7% of its water.

Rami Ziv (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Rami Ziv (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Besides preventing leaks and protecting water infrastructure, smart meters developed by Arad can collect a plethora of other data about usage habits and patterns, water safety and quality, and more. With smart meters capable of pulling in data and transmitting it to servers every few minutes, water utilities can quickly build a huge database of information that is begging to be mined – which means that the water meter business turns into an information technology business,and Arad becomes a “big data” company and develops solutions for utilizing the data.

As a result, Arad began working on apps that water utilities and their customers could use to access and use that collected data. At WaTec, the company unveiled the world’s first iOS and Android application enabling consumers to track water consumption. The app also sends users alerts in real-time on problems like water leaks. In addition to the apps, Arad presented a new web application which could be integrated into a utility’s website. The application sends alerts as well as suggestions for improved water conservation based on usage habits.

Smart metering is something you can’t argue with – unless you’re Sabbath-observant, and your smart meter works on Shabbat. Although a Sabbath-observant Jew would never tamper with a meter on the holy day, several rabbis in the ultra-Orthodox community ruled that simply using water on Shabbat – with the attendant recording of the event by the meter, and its transmission to servers – aids and abets those who are violating the Sabbath at headquarters by giving them more data to manipulate.

Residents of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods are no strangers to “doing without” due to the Sabbath, and plans were already underway in some circles to avoid opening the taps on Shabbat altogether by filling up pitchers and pots on Friday. Top rabbis in turned to Arad for help – and the company came through with a solution, said Tzur.

“The meter we designed for use in these areas works like other smart meters during the six days of the working week,” Tzur said, “while transmission closes itself down on Shabbat.”

The Sabbath-friendly smart meters are just as high-tech as other smart meters, with one difference; instead of a digital readout, they use a traditional “dial,” with numbers on the indicator moving as water is used.

The system transmits information about the state of water usage right before the Sabbath begins, then stops until after Shabbat, when it checks the dial to see how much water was used. Tzur said that the rabbis determined that the movement of the meter’s analog dial as water was used was not a Sabbath violation.

The solution was heartily approved by two of the ultra-Orthodox world’s top rabbinical leaders — Rabbi Shevach Rosenblatt of the “Kehillos Hareidim” kashrut certification organization and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, head of the Jewish Court (Beit Din) of Bnei Brak and one of the most respected rabbis in the yeshiva world.

“We have safeguards installed to ensure that the meter cannot be tampered with when it goes offline,” said Tzur. “Thanks to our solution, all Israelis can turn on their taps without being concerned about Sabbath violations.”

Tzur said, the company is considering marketing the meters in ultra-Orthodox areas abroad, as well.

Water metering technology is poised to become a major issue in cities around the world, said Ziv.

“There are so many benefits to this on all levels – for governments, utilities, consumers, the environment, the economy, and more,” he said. “Eventually smart water meters are going to be everywhere, and as leaders in the industry, I believe many of them will be Arad smart meters.”

Ziv said his company, established in 1941, is the world’s leader in water metering technology. “We have six subsidiaries in China, the US, Spain, and in Israel, and do about $140 million in sales worldwide each year. We concentrate on water metering, developing technologies to help prevent leaks and monitor water use, with an eye to saving resources and money for water utilities around the world.”

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