Guest Column | November 10, 2017

How Do We Get To 'Meaningful' Measurement?

Oliver Grievson

By Oliver Grievson

The question of how to get the most out of the data that we collect as an industry was central to the Sensing in Water Conference recently hosted by the Sensors for Water Interest Group (SWIG). The two-day conference highlighted several themes on how to get the best of the data that the Water Industry collects and how to make our measurements “meaningful.” Chief among those themes was greater collaboration among the different stakeholders, including water companies, universities, and the supply chain.

Despite all of the hard work that the industry has already done, including achieving a 99.96 percent compliance with drinking water standards, there was still 182 serious, significant, or major incidents in 2016 along with a 68 percent increase in issues from 2012 to 2016. Though very good at what we do, there is more work to be done.

On the environmental side of the industry, the conference heard about the difficulties of monitoring in an environment where the number of samples taken in a year by the Environment Agency is creeping into six figures. This is where the theme of collaboration comes in. The pressure applied is to make the testing that is conducted every day more economical whilst maintaining a level of service. Innovation covers part of this, using new and more effective sensors; however, it is through collaboration among all environmental stakeholders and the sharing of data that the true efficiencies can be made. It’s a changing world out there, where all the different environmental “partners” must work together for the good of the wider environment.

Throughout the conference, the development of new sensor technologies, new ways of working, and collaboration was seen. This ranged from cutting-edge work by universities to companies working together with a large helping of trust to deliver solutions.

An example of this was the use of boron doped diamond (BDD) to deliver more accurate pH measurement. Using diamond to measure pH may seem like overkill, as it is a parameter that we have been measuring perfectly well since the 19th century. However, with the use of material science we can measure with more robustness and more reliability, bringing about more efficiencies in the way that we, as an industry, operate.

In the water industry there are certain challenges and opportunities that affect the industry as a whole, and the case study presented surrounding the subject of metaldehyde has been one. The chemical, which is used as a molluscicide, is notoriously difficult to analyze in a laboratory environment, let alone online at a treatment works. The case study showed that a collaborative effort with Affinity Water and its supply chain managed to bring a laboratory-grade analytical method and convert it to an online method capable of managing different inputs into the water treatment process with a project that doesn’t require a full laboratory staff to run it.

As an industry, we are entering a world where the treatment process is being asked to operate at increasing complexity, and it is through this type of collaboration that the day-to-day work of managing the water industry to deliver ways of working to assist in this complexity can help the industry to do the “business as usual.”

No modern conference in instrumentation is complete without the arbitrary discussion on Big Data and managing the data that we gather each day, and this year’s Sensing in Water did not disappoint. The case study on how Severn Trent Water looked at their catchments at Spernal and Trimpley was a shining example of the way that the industry can operate. It showed how data collected by online instrumentation can be distilled into useable information, allowing the way we operate to be refined. In this case, it allowed the operating catchment, including the treatment “factory” and associated system, to be managed and operated rather than simply sampled and checked. This allows the factory approach – originally raised by the Dutch organization STOWA, where the process is refined and where as much of the resource of wastewater is recovered as possible, in the most efficient way – to become a reality. All of this made capable through the use of instrumentation and data.

This year’s Sensing in Water showed that instrumentation is a vital tool in the water industry, but we must get the best possible value from the data that we collect. In order to do this, collaboration among water companies, academia, and the supply chain is absolutely essential.