Digitalisation in the world of water: objectives and solutions
The digitalisation of the water sector is a reality. Water resource management in any setting, whether agricultural, urban or industrial, must adapt to changes and consumption patterns. Modernisation and incorporating technology into management practices, both in terms of measuring and monitoring, are essential to protect and preserve resources.
Water scarcity is a well-known global issue. Environmental factors such as climate change, with long periods of drought and extreme weather events, and global population growth, compound the problem. What is more, irrigation techniques, industrial practices, and domestic consumption lead to an excessive demand, usually well above the capacity of resources to regenerate. Therefore, in many regions of our planet, water availability is not always guaranteed.
The objective is clear and the problems are well defined. Focusing on the topic of this article – water consumption management – achieving more efficient use by improving the way the resource is managed is paramount. The different water supply systems or networks offer an opportunity for modernisation; it is important to invest in monitoring, as well as in improving infrastructure to drastically reduce losses, while fostering water saving and responsible use. This is the objective of Hidroconta, reaching maximum cost-effectiveness of the resource by optimising water consumption, seeking maximum sustainability.
When we talk about smart water management, remote management is key: technology and innovation will help modernise resource handling
Advances in technology and communications are fundamental to achieve this goal, giving rise to a new scenario with new possibilities and with systems that are reliable and adapted to management requirements. We leave behind early years when systems that are now obsolete did not meet expectations, and where first experiences were not as anticipated. Once the initial problems have been solved, there is no excuse not to incorporate technology to water resource management.
When we talk about smart water management, remote management is key: technology and innovation will help modernise resource handling and make up a flexible and adaptable solution for more efficient management of both infrastructure and the final resource. Without including these technological advances, it will be difficult to achieve the set targets.
Remote management, in essence, refers to a set of electronic devices, remote terminal units (RTU) and data loggers, connected using different telecommunications technologies and infrastructure, that enable controlling facilities – in this case are hydraulic facilities – remotely, through connections with equipment such as meters, valves, sensors or digital contacts. Remote management comprises telemetry and remote control, which, even though they may be similar systems, are not the same. The difference lies in that telemetry or remote reading only entails receiving data from the network, which are interpreted and translated into information that can be analysed, together with warnings about any anomalies in the facilities and the application of expert rules. Remote control would be an add-on, when it is possible to send information to the facility in order to run instructions, commands and working parameters.
Hidroconta has developed a wide range of solutions to enable remote device reading, such as Remotas Deméter, the Iris telemetry module, as well as water meters with built-in communications technology.
Remote management uses different types of computing devices, management software, web platforms as well as mobile applications. All the information is received by a server and processed. These programs interpret the information, generate tables and graphs, and enable analysis and afterwards implementing measures; this will be done manually, programmed, or automated, since the different devices are connected according to established settings. The communication will depend on each system: it may be constant or cyclic according to the needs of each facility. Hidroconta offers clients tools that are adapted to the different management needs, thus creating WEB platforms for integrated network management and end user APPs.
The manufacturers of this technology usually have application programming interfaces (APIs). They are a set of definitions and protocols used to develop and integrate application software. The API allows products and services to communicate with others with no need to know how they are implemented. This simplifies the development of applications and results in time and money savings. It means that thanks to those rules, the devices and management software by different developers can communicate between themselves, enabling their integration.
Remote management comprises telemetry and remote control, which, even though they may be similar systems, are not the same
Once the remote management and the system involved have been defined, it is important to comment on the different types of communications used to establish the connections between equipment or devices in the field and the management programs. Low-power wide-area network technologies (LPWAN) are currently the most modern solutions, with a bright future, and they are outdoing the known technologies GSM, GPRS and LTE for use in these systems. The advantages of this type of communications are that they are directed to offer global coverage, optimising data transfer, having low-cost hardware, and, most interestingly, reducing the energy consumption of sensors and devices. These are IoT or Internet of Things communications, and among the main LPWAN operators and technology manufacturers, we may highlight Sigfox, NB-IoT (Narrowband) and LoRaWAN.
For those that still have doubts and wonder why it is a good investment to integrate this type of technology, we should note the advantages it offers and that, depending on the setting – agricultural, urban or industrial – the management possibilities allow us to obtain the maximum benefit of using the system. As I mentioned earlier, the objective of this transformation process is to receive the information generated at a facility so it can be later analysed or acted upon, so that you can:
- Obtain information at scheduled times.
- Measure and analyse data for later decision making.
- Receive notifications and warnings about processes or issues in the facilities.
- Ensure more effective operations in the facilities.
- Attain higher productivity, and as a result, improved cost-effectiveness.
This is achieved acting at the operational level with the system, through the software or working platform, to enable:
- Better maintenance and condition of the facilities, since the network is permanently monitored: you have information about any issues and you can anticipate and take action when they deteriorate. Data processing allows network managers to build more accurate and efficient models, and offers the possibility of studying consumers' behaviour.
- Higher efficiency and optimisation of the resource, given the volumes of water pumped can be lowered, the performance of the network is optimised and leaks and non revenue water are reduced.
- Savings in operational management, reducing travelling and action costs and improving downtime. Addressing any breakdowns is done more efficiently by optimising material and human resources.
- Providing consumption information to the user through user-friendly applications. Users can permanently monitor water use; thus, more efficient and responsible water use is encouraged.
- Direct energy savings: a more efficient facility will allow reducing energy use by the equipment. There will also be indirect savings through optimum management of resources, by avoiding travelling and improving the maintenance of facilities and equipment.
To briefly conclude, we may highlight that all the benefits of digitalisation in the water sector aim to protect and preserve the resource, to achieve important cost reductions for both utilities and consumers and to improve the services provided to consumers.