Dr. Mudasser Iqbal
For many utilities, failing pipelines and non-revenue water are atop the list of concerns. However, these issues can be greatly mitigated by leveraging readily available data in an intelligent way — through smart water management.
Water utilities face many challenges including aging infrastructure, constrained resources, and revenue shortfalls. Most utilities use various technological resources to manage their assets and increase efficiency.
Resources may include advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), geographic information systems (GIS), hydraulic models, asset management systems, network sensors, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and billing databases.
Unfortunately, those resources are often managed in “silos.” In some cases, data and analytics are employed by different departments without the knowledge that similar systems might already exist in other parts of the same utility. These cases create missed opportunities as utilities can gain insights and harness better intelligence through data and analytics compiled from various business functions.
By developing a strategy to integrate and capitalize on new and existing technologies, utilities can:
- Respond proactively to network faults
- Improve their usage of information to enhance the customer experience
- Improve their asset management strategies to better predict future needs
- Reduce water losses and ensure sustainability of water supplies
- Improve operational response management
Moving Toward Smart Water Management
Using a holistic approach to water management, utilities can bring many technologies together. Compiled data can be transformed into usable information when the right analytics are applied. To achieve this result, a smart water platform should include the following:
Optimal instrumentation should provide data at every stage of the process, from source to consumer. At minimum, sensors should measure:
- Water quality
- Baseline and transient pressure
- Consumer usage with smart meters
A robust and secure communication network connects the millions of data points from the instrumentation. Data can be stored and analyzed at a central command center with smart data analytics.
Smart Data Analytics
Utilities must use smart data analytics to effectively harness the power of the collected data. Utility-specific analytics transform data into actionable information for the utility’s business functions. The advanced analytics should integrate sensor data with existing systems, such as SCADA, hydraulic modeling, smart meters, billing, and asset management. Smart analytics must be scalable, and able to support varied data sets.
A central command center should show visual information on a GIS-based map. Interactive dashboards can provide a variety of views, reports, visual charts, and alerts. The system should be able to display heat maps to visualize key parameters such as pressure or water age.
Building upon this foundation, utilities can implement advanced smart water capabilities. Imagine the efficiency and optimization opportunities that come with the ability to compile data from all of the utility’s existing systems, and then transform it into intelligence the utility can use.
Smart Water Platform Results
With real-time analytical capabilities, a secure, smart water platform could help:
- Reduce non-revenue water (NRW)
- Detect water breaks
- Identify and prevent potential pipe failure
- Target capital improvement planning
- Sustain reductions in water loss
- Improve customer service
Utilities experience both operational and asset efficiency from a smart water strategy. From this approach, some utilities have seen at least a 50 percent reduction in capital and operating costs with large-scale leak detection. Reductions of six to eight hours in response time for service calls have also occurred at some utilities after putting a smart water platform into effect.
Depending on the system components, numerous capabilities are possible. Here are some examples:
Non-Revenue Water Tracking
Advanced water balance calculations can detect emerging water losses in the network. The utility can track water balance if flow meter data is available from the boundaries of district metered areas (DMAs). This works by taking the flow to the DMA data and comparing with total consumption recorded by smart meters. The results are statistically corrected for faulty or missing meters for a more accurate assessment. After taking the correction into account, the remaining disparity can be monitored for trends. A growing disparity raises an alarm so that the utility can further investigate and resolve issues.
Leak Detection And Location Identification
Real-time monitoring with acoustic, pressure, and flow sensors provides the ability to address different types of leaks. With the right platform and data points in place, detection of slowly developing leaks, water main breaks, or pipe bursts can be localized. Alerts are sent in real time and can be integrated with a SCADA system for the operator’s convenience and faster response. The utility can prioritize notifications based on severity. Such prioritization can prevent unnecessary after-hours callouts while providing immediate response to large leaks.
Early leak detection can allow utility operations to:
- Reduce leakage time for decreased water loss
- Lower potential for expensive property damage
- Plan ahead and prioritize pipe repairs and/or replacements
- Predict locations of future pipe bursts with smart water analytics
For water customers:
- Scheduled water outages reduce consumer inconvenience
- Customer leak detection prevents unexpectedly high bills
Improving Asset Life Through Pressure Monitoring And Management
Pressure transients, also called water hammer, can damage water networks and lead to leakage or pipe bursts. They can also shorten the material life of the system. Rapid changes in water flow or velocity cause these pressure transients. When the flow is abruptly stopped or changed, pressure waves form. These pressure waves travel back and forth through the pipe, sometimes at the speed of sound.
Any situation that quickly changes the flow rate may create pressure transients. This includes common distribution activities such as a valve opening or closing, or a pump starting or stopping. Even a change in flow direction can create pressure waves. Large commercial and industrial water consumers with fluctuating flows can often create and experience pressure transients.
By combining high-rate pressure sensing with smart analytics, utilities can identify sections of the network most at risk. They can also gain insight into the locations and sources of water hammer. Such insight can be used to target hot spots for condition assessment, instead of spending money in areas where it isn’t needed. When issues are detected, the utility can then address them by installing hydraulic dampers or other surge-relief technology.
Pressure transient analytics provide a nonintrusive way to monitor pipe condition and stress level through ongoing data analysis. This creates a more proactive and cost-effective approach — also known as the fluid energy approach — to water network asset management, as critical mains can be monitored for deterioration and only areas in need of maintenance can be targeted.
Network Impact Assessments
With smart analytics, a utility can better utilize network hydraulic models. Hydraulic simulations can show the impact of valve closures, flushing, or pipe isolation. This allows for improved project planning and execution. It also helps with avoiding unintended consequences such as pipe bursts and water quality issues. The platform can also monitor valve operations automatically, which is especially critical for pressure boundary and ensuring DMAs are secure.
Greater Customer Value And Insights
Smart meters collect customer data. This information can be provided to customers to help them understand their water usage and bills. Customers can also connect to an online portal for account information and to communicate with the utility. Analytics detect usage anomalies such as possible leakage and can be correlated with other relevant data such as weather. Customers can then use this data to resolve issues and conserve water. A smart water network also makes use of this smart meter data in conjunction with other data sets to improve the network model and suppress anomaly alarms related to consumption that are otherwise triggered falsely as leaks.
Improving Environmental Sustainability
Smart water management reduces waste and protects the environment. By monitoring and quickly repairing leaks and bursts, utilities conserve precious water resources. Better customer engagement further encourages conservation through consumer understanding and action.
Trench with water pipes
Improved network monitoring and targeted asset repair and replacement also preserve existing network resources.
Intelligent innovation and smart water platforms put utility managers in control of the water network. Decision-makers have quick and easy access to critical and actionable information, which reduces future risk. In addition, a smart water platform takes away the labor-intensive guesswork in making critical operational decisions by integrating the network and hydraulic knowledge. This also helps with workforce succession planning at the utility.
Journey To A Smart Water Platform
Utilities can start the journey from nearly anywhere on the technology scale. However, AMI is part of the foundation for a smart water platform. AMI is especially valuable for reducing non-revenue water. If a utility is just starting to implement AMI, a starting point might be to focus on large customers such as commercial and industrial consumers.
For utilities on the beginning end of the scale, minimum requirements also include GIS. The AMI and GIS provide the basis for the smart water platform. From there, the utility can home in on real and potential losses with acoustics and fluid energy measurement. Using smart analytics, the utility can develop strategies for infrastructure replacement, mitigate pressure transients, or perform a water balance calculation.
Utilities on the far end of the scale may have many advanced systems to integrate. These utilities will benefit from a smart platform that compiles and correlates data from numerous systems to present a better picture of their water network. This usable information allows the utility to respond to an emergency, plan for capital improvements, or answer a customer query.
Most importantly, this system helps to keep a close eye on the network to highlight anomalies proactively — which, if resolved in a timely manner, helps to sustain lower water loss levels.
Note that a smart water platform must manage analytics specific to water networks. Traditional database systems can evaluate data, but those systems were never built for water processes. The ideal smart water platform is customized for each individual utility. It should also be scalable. These criteria result in prioritized functions to address problems a utility is trying to solve.
For instance, if the utility is experiencing excess NRW, they might install flow meters, pressure sensors, and hydrophone units to detect losses on transmission mains and DMAs. Another example would be a utility concerned about a section of old pipe. Installing transient pressure transmitters at key locations can monitor stress on the pipe. Analytics can then forecast the potential for future failure as the platform continues to capture more intelligence over time.
The Human Factor
Although the technology exists to integrate data from multiple systems, different departments within a utility may control these systems. There is also the added consideration that many people may use them. It’s crucial to include all utility functions that will use or be affected by the smart water platform during the planning and implementation process. The platform provider should help the utility throughout the entire process, from preliminary planning through project completion and training.
As an example of how far-reaching the considerations could go, many departments within a municipality may use GIS. The water utility department has access for network components. Public works may have access for streets and highways. Planning departments use GIS for zoning and land-use maps. In the case of implementing a smart water platform program, as best practice, all of these departments using the GIS should be informed about the smart water platform program. These GIS users must have the opportunity to understand how the project will affect their operation to avoid unexpected complications and roadblocks surfacing during the implementation.
The First Steps
An experienced technical partner can help a utility move toward a smart water platform. First, know that if a utility needs to solve a specific problem, an analytics framework most likely exists to address that problem.
Such a framework is offered through a combination of two Xylem brands: Visenti and Sensus. Key distribution network data is captured, measured, and transmitted through Sensus metrology and the FlexNet® communication network to work with Visenti’s Real Loss solutions. Sensus Analytics provides data management and analytics of this key data, combined with other system data, to keep an intelligent eye on water distribution network assets. Visit Sensus.com and Visenti.com to learn more.
About The Author
Dr. Mudasser Iqbal is a cofounder of Visenti, a Xylem brand, and executive director of Software Systems. He leads and provides strategy on the product development and Big Data analytics solutions. In addition, he oversees Visenti's global partnerships and business expansion beyond Singapore. He received his Ph.D. from Monash University, Australia, and later served at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.