AQM for Local Authorities: Hidden costs
Legislation and increasing public scrutiny are focusing on the roles and responsibilities of local authorities in air quality management. In 2019 the Guardian published an article stating that five people die each week in Bristol as a result of high levels of air pollution and that “83% of reporting zones in the UK had illegal levels [of air pollution]”.
As air quality monitoring equipment becomes more sophisticated yet more affordable, local air quality management faces more choices on how to deploy monitoring networks. With public money at stake, decisions about data quality, value for money and ongoing budgets can become contentious.
Public procurement requires a clear statement not only of ‘up and running’ costs, but also the total costs of ownership (TCO) for the life of the products. TCO is not a new idea, but how it applies to air quality monitoring technology is often opaque to non-experts. What, potential hidden costs should a consumer be looking out for?
Three Key Factors:
Like a car, some equipment starts to age the second you drive off the forecourt. For air quality monitoring, each device runs its own on-board firmware (a kind of software that is pre-installed and allows the device to operate). Firmware is constantly subject to updates to keep the product current, particularly for communications compatibility, so you need to know how updates will happen.
Send devices back to the manufacturer, or schedule an on-site maintenance visit? Are there extra charges for this? Or when updates are due, will they simply be a hindrance and so never happen, resulting in otherwise robust devices being quickly out of date? A better option: over-the-air firmware updates that are included in your initial purchase price.
Ongoing Maintenance Costs
Getting someone to each device in your network for maintenance can be non-trivial. Have you considered the cost of maintenance per device, replacement sensors, time and effort, training costs, plus potential device down-time?
Even if maintenance is included in the purchase price, will it be scheduled and actioned or will it end up more expedient to replace units when they eventually stop functioning? The best option is to choose devices that more than meet the brief and which are robust enough to handle the most extreme weather conditions with minimal on-site intervention. As a practical example, the United Nations state this as a non-negotiable requirement for devices supplied by South Coast Science as part of their environmental programme.
Despite scheduled maintenance or robust devices that operate out-of-the-box, sometimes unexpected things happen that may interrupt device function. Have you assessed the risks and impact of device outage on your project? How would this be picked up?
The most desirable option by far is an automatic diagnostic service that flags devices that aren’t functioning as expected within minutes of the error occurring, allowing appropriate action to be taken. This can be delivered using the existing cloud-infrastructure typically provided as part of a commercial air quality monitoring service, as South Coast Science demonstrates with its Praxis monitors.
Trust and accountability from your manufacturer
Choosing the right solution for your project is about more than ticking off a list of individual features. Hidden costs can come in the form of maintenance needs; devices not meeting the expected life-span or loss of critical data that impacts credibility of your reporting.
Other sources of hidden costs may be ongoing subscriptions that aren’t made clear up front, for example is access to a cloud based dashboard included in the purchase price, or is it an ongoing monthly extra? What about if you need to add users later – does that come at a price?
Stemming from our partnerships in academia and research, South Coast Science adopts an open and pragmatic approach, which also turns out to be cost efficient in the long term. Our commitment through our Praxis product line is to provide devices that are manufactured in the UK and operate exactly as you would expect over their lifetime.
The DNA that runs through our products was not ‘injected’ in a workshop environment, it was learnt over years of testing and retesting in some of the most hostile environments imaginable. It has resulted in robust products that frequently surpass our customer’s briefs for evidence-based policy making.