Guest Column | March 16, 2017

The Future Of Water Management

The Future Of Water Management

By John Nye, VP of Business Development, Senet

It is widely acknowledged that there are fundamental flaws in the nation’s water and wastewater management infrastructure (pipe systems, facilities, and equipment) that result in environmental damage and the loss of millions of gallons of water every year. Labor-intensive meter reading and the lack of visibility into distribution, collection, and consumption patterns result in time-consuming, costly, and reactive services. To minimize these losses, and to address mounting concerns about drought, flooding, and water quality, the water industry is now adopting advanced sensor and communications solutions designed specifically for “smart” Internet of Things (IoT) water management. In large part, the move toward implementing smart water solutions is being driven by stricter government compliance requirements, the evolution of smart cities, and the need for water conservation in agriculture and other heavy water use markets.

A New Kind Of Network For Smart Water Management

There are many wireless technologies that can address the challenges faced by the water industry.  Cellular, Wi-Fi, and BTLE (Bluetooth Low-Energy) are widely adopted but introduce a gap between high-cost, high-data rate cellular and low-cost, localized Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Furthermore, these solutions are often not available or reliable in remote and rural areas where water supply and management are critical functions of industrial and agricultural operations.

This gap has been filled by a new IoT network technology — Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs). LPWANs are designed for sensors and applications that need to send small amounts of data over long distances a few times per hour from a variety of environments. With LPWANs, network coverage can easily be right-sized to meet the deployment need — with broad coverage for citywide services to localized coverage for rural agriculture applications, including harsh and remote areas. And with the availability of low-cost, battery-powered wireless sensors, significantly more assets can be monitored for longer periods of time.

Having already gained traction in markets with similar challenges, LPWANs are now attracting interest from the water industry and water conservationists. Telecom companies and network operators are among the early suppliers of LPWAN technology and are rapidly rolling out LPWAN networks. Senet, for example, has deployed LPWAN coverage in more than 225 cities and 23 states across the U.S. In support of water management and conservation applications, Senet has forged partnerships with Trimble Water and Paige Ag, a division of Paige Electric Co., to deliver solutions based on the LoRaWAN™ protocol being advanced by the LoRa Alliance and its more than 400 member companies.

Smart Water Utilities — Improving Service Levels And Promoting Water Conservation

Water utilities have begun to adopt smart technology solutions to streamline their operations and proactively address issues with the nation’s water infrastructure. Smart metering, for example, allows a utility to automate the meter-reading process, resulting in more timely and accurate billing. Smart meters can also generate sensor data that provide visibility into the health of the distribution network. With this added information, utilities can improve workflows and make better-informed decisions in support of business processes and regulatory compliance.

A utility can also implement smart water management solutions to remotely monitor the status of its equipment and assets. Importantly, this information can be actionable. Using sensor data and the capabilities of a LoRaWAN-enabled smart water management solution, a gate can be remotely opened or closed or a pump can be turned on or off to adjust the flow of water through the water transport system. Equipment with moving parts can be monitored for indications of failure, allowing the utility to determine if it needs to be replaced or repaired. This more detailed and timely information allows utilities to improve service delivery and enhance customer engagement around water conservation while better managing their assets to reduce energy costs and water loss.

Smart Municipalities — Reducing Pollution And Enhancing City Services

Water management is considered the heart of many smart city initiatives across North America. The coverage and capacity of LoRaWAN networks are ideal for reporting usage data at frequent intervals and enable municipalities to more effectively provide services to their customers and ensure sensible resource management.

By embedding LoRaWAN sensors throughout the pump control systems and distribution network, cities can generate and leverage new data to optimize water flow. Through this optimization, cities can minimize water loss due to leakage, proactively address the potential for new leaks, and save on energy costs by reducing pumping requirements. In addition to optimizing the use of limited freshwater resources, cities can implement LPWAN IoT solutions to address water pollution due to heavy rainfall. By collecting data from water storage facilities and combining it with weather prediction and pattern analysis, cities can be better prepared to remove contaminants before returning water to oceans and rivers, and benefit from increased water harvesting.

By utilizing LPWANs as the IoT connectivity layer, municipalities can also begin to leverage their water systems for enhanced data collection in support of additional city services. Many cities are now looking to expand on their IoT-enabled water management infrastructure to improve services like waste management and energy consumption in public buildings.

Smart Irrigation — Optimizing Crop Yield And Addressing Drought Concerns

Farming requires sustained irrigation, which can account for the highest amount of water usage in any particular agricultural area. Until now, poor wireless coverage in rural areas has impeded the adoption of IoT solutions in the agriculture market. Farmland is often isolated from cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi technologies; and where they do exist, cost and complexity of deployment can be prohibitive.

With device connectivity over very long ranges (~15 miles), very long battery power life (~10 years), and an extremely low per-device cost, LPWANs and LoRaWAN-compatible sensors are ideal for gathering data about local agricultural conditions. Farmers using sensors in the field can detect moisture in the soil and help create irrigation systems for crops based on soil moisture and temperature. This type of technology gives farmers greater precision and control to develop water applications customized to their individual farming needs. Smart water sensors can also detect leaks and line faults, enabling farmers to quickly address problems and prevent water drainage in the absence of supervision, and avoiding conditions that significantly contribute to drought conditions.

About Senet

Senet is the first and fastest-growing public Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) Service Provider in North America. Dedicated to a global open standard for secure, carrier-grade IoT LPWAN using LoRaWAN™ connectivity, Senet provides low-cost, long-distance, low-power, wireless connectivity for IoT/M2M applications across all industries.

Image credit: "Blue Yellow Water Collision" Joe Dyer © 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/