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Moving beyond AMI to smart water solutions

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Badger Meter has been an innovator in flow measurement for more than 115 years serving water utilities, municipalities and commercial industrial customers with an emphasis on residential metering, measurement, AMI and NaaS (Network as a Service) solutions. Recently Badger Meter has made several acquisitions in the water quality space, expanding the range of solutions offered to move beyond AMI to Smart Water Solutions.

Matt Stuyvenberg is leading the water quality business at Badger Meter as the company expands beyond smart metering and further into smart water solutions. As Vice President of Water Quality at Badger Meter, solving water problems through distributed smart sensors and the synthesis of often segregated data continues to be an area of interest for Matt. In this interview, first published in Smart Water Magazine Bimonthly 12, we hear from him about the strategic fit for s::can and ATi solutions within the Badger Meter portfolio, and the nexus between smart water, IoT and distributed sensors.

Badger Meter has been a leading water solutions company focusing on flow measurement for more than a century; how did it decide to get involved in water quality monitoring? Why now? 

While measuring the quantity of water consumed continues to be a significant need for both the utilities that rely on accurate and reliable data to keep their operations running and for consumer insights and conservation efforts, the quality of that water being delivered is increasingly in the headlines. Whether it is the quality of our waterways that we draw from to feed our treatment plants and where we look to enjoy recreational activities, the treated water being delivered to our faucets, or the quality of water being returned to the collection systems and environment, there’s no shortage of water quality issues throughout the water cycle.

Matt Stuyvenberg (right) visits with a major metropolitan customer about their usage of s::can micro::stations which provides 15 water quality parameters, contamination alarms based on UV-VIS spectrum plus percentage of water sources, all in real time

Badger Meter has led the way in converting meter reading from something that was done manually at the meter on a quarterly basis, to smart metering and AMI/NaaS/SaaS solutions that collect and transmit 15-minute interval data all without the need for any additional utility installed infrastructure. With that amount of data being collected, the visibility of operations for a utility and homeowner is greatly expanded. Thinking about water quality, we look to make a similar transition in the way water quality data is collected from a manual and infrequent basis to real time, inline, online measurement. This will in turn inform operations, driving confidence in the quality of water delivered and ultimately making water more visible to all stakeholders. While water quality may appear to be a new direction for Badger Meter, it’s been part of internal discussions for over 10 years, evaluating how a disaggregated network of water quality sensors could greatly augment the data collected through AMI. While 10 years ago that effort was technologically out of reach, innovation has progressed making it a reality.  

How do s::can and ATi contribute to the vision of Badger Meter?

Only when we have water quality data at our fingertips can we start to educate and reassure the public about tap water safety

ATi and s::can have been a fantastic cultural and technical complement to the Badger Meter vision. While all three companies have different origin stories, all have at their core a desire to preserve and protect the world’s most precious resource by making water more visible.  For more than a combined 50 years, ATi and s::can have been innovating in the analytical arena, creating products and insights that help water professionals better manage their work. 

s::can is the leader in inline, online and intelligent spectrometry-based water quality measurement systems. While s::can has independently built out a full suite of monitoring solutions beyond the flagship spectro::lyser product, innovative optical measurement methods and event detection continue to be the focus. Complementing this are the class-leading electrochemical sensor solutions for water quality and gas monitoring applications by ATi. Low-powered, digital and distributed sensor innovations have led to mass deployments of sensors in difficult and distributed locations.

Both ATi and s::can have moved water quality monitoring out of the lab and into the field. In order to do that, sensors and monitoring stations need to be low-powered, inline, online, reagent-free systems whenever possible. That’s what makes them such a great fit within Badger Meter. Innovative solutions like MetriNet, by ATi, and s::can’s pipe::scan enable water quality to be deployed in distribution networks and help fulfill the vision of distributed water quality monitoring living alongside metering and AMI systems.

  • MetriNet, by ATi, is an ultra-low-powered, smart water quality monitoring solution for distribution networks

How can AMI systems function as a backbone for sensor data collection in water systems?

The residential meter has typically been deployed as the “cash register” for the utility. While that is still its core purpose, it’s collecting far more information than just a monthly read. Recent advances in ultrasonic metering technologies now include sensors and data that previously weren’t considered. For example, 15-minute interval data on flow rate, total volume, temperature and even pressure can now be presented by the utility meter through the AMI/NaaS system utilizing an infrastructure-free cellular communications network.  

Why wait for days to collect, transport, analyse and receive your results when you could see that data in real time?

That amount of operational data should not live in a silo within a billing department, but instead leveraged for much greater operational insights. Combine the data collected through the meters with additional sensors throughout the network (e.g. pressure and water quality) and the insights expand to provide greater pressure management, leak detection and alerts, network condition assessment and enhanced operational insights.  

BEACON AMA, EyeOnWater, 3” E-Series Ultrasonic Meter with pressure, temperature & Orion Cellular endpoint

To what extent can additional sensors, including for water quality monitoring, improve confidence in water systems?

Water professionals are doing great work every day to ensure they are delivering clean, safe drinking water, yet too frequently people are turning to bottled water due to either a preference for the taste or a lack of confidence in tap water. While utilities are required to do water sampling and publish water confidence reports, these often do little to change consumer perception. Implementing a distributed network of real time water quality monitors effectively shows the utility’s commitment to water quality. Furthermore, that data can be surfaced to consumers through outreach apps, like EyeOnWater®, by Badger Meter, or through the utility’s own portal. 

Forward-thinking water utilities are building futureproof water quality strategies utilizing smart technologies, enabling a shift from reactive practices, to proactive solutions based on real-time data. With continuous measurement, we can demonstrate tap water quality and increase confidence. Only when we have water quality data at our fingertips can we start to educate and reassure the public about tap water safety, supported by real-time evidence, along with the health, financial and environmental benefits over its bottled counterpart. 

EyeOnWater consumer application providing near real-time insights into household water consumption, alerts & enabling online bill pay

Water quality monitoring used to be based on lab or infrequent data. Do current smart water solutions make it possible to shift to real time data?

Absolutely. While monitoring stations won’t completely replace the lab, a network of low-powered, inline, online, reagent-free solutions from Badger Meter can be deployed in the field at critical locations, shifting to more informed real-time decision making, providing evidence-based proof of the water safety. Why wait for days to collect, transport, analyse and receive your results when you can see the data in real-time without missing events that spot checks may have missed? 

Can you explain the role of cellular/LPWAN technologies in massive data collection?

Data backhaul has always been a key enabler of remote technologies. Without low power and secure mechanisms to get the data back from the field, massive data collection is impaired. With advances in cellular protocols like LTE-M and NB-IoT, power consumption is low enough to enable frequent communications while still being battery powered.  

Badger Meter is working closer than ever before to deliver the real value of smart water, to offer a true Return on Intelligence

Badger Meter has been a leader in cellular offerings for meter reading communications since launching the first ORION® Cellular endpoints in 2013. Now on our 6th generation of product and with millions of devices installed, we are confident that cellular is the best solution for data backhaul for water applications. Combining a secure connection that is available everywhere without the need for utilities to maintain their own networks or vertical infrastructure, cellular data backhaul enables them to deploy sensor networks starting with just a handful of sensors and can scale reliably without concerns of oversaturating collectors like with other LPWAN technologies.

Utilities can find themselves drowned in a wealth of data; how can it be turned into insights?

This really is the key as we look to move beyond AMI into a world of intelligent measurement, reliable communications, secure and integrated data and actionable analytics. Data for the sake of data collection can feel like a noble cause but turning that data into insights is where the real value is realized. 

The usefulness of the data is a function of the following aspects:

  • The right data - accurate, at the right place(s); the correct parameter, resolution and appropriate sample intervals to accomplish the goals of the utility.
  • The right communications – the latency of the data and separate paths for normal data versus alarms will help the utilization of importance events.
  • The right integration – coupling measurement with other data within the utility such as asset management, GIS systems as well as metadata and other measurement parameters.
  • The right presentation – synthesizing data and presenting understandable dashboards, heat maps, data arrays, customizable reports and notifications can trim away the laborious data mining and wishful findings of observations. Transforming mass data into easy to understand presentations is useful for revenue capture, cost reductions, risk mitigations, asset optimization, customer satisfaction and enhanced sustainability.   

Digital innovation will be the key to success and survival, enabling organizations to build a connected workforce, modernize operational processes and deliver enhanced customer service. Badger Meter is working closer than ever before with customers and strategic partners to deliver the real value of smart water, to offer a true Return on Intelligence.