Eka Systems on Tuesday launched a water meter-monitoring device that helps utilities more easily manage water use and equipment failure.

The company, based in Germantown, Md., has begun selling the EKA-1600, a small circuit board embedded in each water meter that collects and sends data over a wireless network.

Traditionally, utilities would dispatch workers to read the water meters located at each home or business, or a centralized location in a neighborhood. Detecting equipment failures and fixing them can take significant time.

With the new water meter-reading device, utilities can get water-use data more quickly and frequently and have the ability to spot leaks and shut off water remotely, said Srini Krishnamurthy, Eka Systems' vice president for corporate development.

"Now you can measure water in a way that allows you to conserve and create efficiency programs based on the data you are getting," Krishnamurthy said.

The new product represents Eka's entry into the water-metering business. The company has been developing and selling electronic equipment and software that creates and operates wireless communications networks for electric utilities. The hardware offerings include wireless gateways that collect data from individual meters and send the information to utilities' offices for analysis, and hand-held devices to configure and manage a network.

Eka, founded in 2000, works directly with utilities and with meter makers such as Landis+Gyr and Elster Electricity to embed its products, which are sold internationally, including in Russia, Singapore and Ecuador.

Eka is one of a growing number of companies looking to profit from utilities hoping to shave the electric grid's operational cost and reduce wasteful power consumption. The companies use sensors, computers and networking technology to manage power demand and delivery (see Giving the Grid a Brain and Energy-Management Buying Spree Continues).

The smart-grid market is still small, although sales growth posted by two companies recently showed an increasing demand for more responsive utility networks (see Smart Grid Sales on the Rise).

Eka's devices are not embedded in the electrical-transmission network but in electric, gas or water meters. Because many electric utilities also provide water services, Eka designed its water-meter-monitoring device, which transmits over a 900-megahertz radio frequency, for easy deployment in a wireless network already set up to monitor electric meters, Krishnamurthy said.

The Texas city of San Marcos is one of the first to deploy Eka's water-meter device. The $5 million project involves installing 20,000 electric meters and 10,000 water meters made by Sensus Metering Systems and embedded with Eka's products, Krishnamurthy said. The city could recoup its investment in a few years after full deployment of the project, he added.

Installing elec tric-metering and water-metering systems of comparable sizes costs about the same. But operating the smart electric-metering network is more expensive because electricity delivery requires a more complex network and utilities want to collect a greater amount of data, Krishnamurthy said.

"On the electric side, you have to provide more data for utilities to implement renewable energy into the mix and allow them to manage the grid more cleverly," he said. "On the water side, you don't have to deliver that much information because water is supplied from a central location, with pumping stations here and there."

In July, the company said it had raised $18.5 million from investors including Flybridge Capital Partners, Angeleno Group, RockPort Capital Partners, the Westly Group and Metropolitan Investment.

Eka is profitable, Krishnamurthy said. Although Eka has entertained acquisition proposals, he added, it hasn't settled on an exit strategy, which could include an initial public offering.