Instrumenting Your Water Network Makes Sense
Sensor technologies are found in much of the worlds infrastructure today, including power grids, communications networks, and even public roads. Water Utilities have been slower to adopt such technology, but that is changing. Sensors have reached a critical intersection of capability and affordability that makes it easier than ever to adopt, deploy, and realise the associated cost savings and efficiencies. As a result, it has never been easier to instrument the Water distribution network.
A Convergence of Technologies
In the past, the main way that a Water utility learnt that something was wrong in the network was through a customer complaint. By the time that a customer has lost Water pressure, or has noticed that their Water looks, smells, or tastes odd, the problem has likely worsened, resulting in more time and cost to fix the issue. Sensors give eyes and ears to a Water distribution network, so operators can assess system failures and address problems before they result in a customer complaint.
Advancements in technology have improved the functionality of sensors and made them affordable to deploy in any Water distribution network regardless of size or design. These advancements include:
- Electronic and sensing technology. Sensor systems have become more robust and are able to operate in harsh conditions, extending their life and affordability.
- Battery technology. Today batteries last longer and are more reliable, increasing sensor life expectancy, which is especially valuable for sensors in remote locations that are not easy to access or are accessed less often.
- Communications technology. The proliferation of cellular communication technology and networks ensures instrumentation can easily return data and be configured or updated.
- Data storage. With cloud storage and software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings becoming the preferred option, there’s no longer a need for Water Utilities to invest time, expertise, and real estate to store data on servers.
- Security. With continual improvements in security of cloud-based software services, Water Utilities can rely on the best industry solutions to safeguard their information.
Progressive Water utilities are preferring to collect data from permanent sensors that transmit near real-time data to the cloud. This eliminates the need to deploy personnel and equipment and management of programmes to take periodic measurement. Most permanent sensors allow for setting parameters that can trigger alarms and, in some cases, automate responses to pre-empt an undesirable event. The three most common permanent sensors include:
- Pressure/flow loggers give visibility of flow rates and pressure change at different points in the distribution system. They can help detect and diagnose leaks/bursts, Water hammer, and other disruptions.
- Acoustic sensors can identify faint acoustic noises emitted by leaks and pinpoint the location.
- Water quality sensors can measure pH, chlorine residuals, turbidity, and more. If levels are outside the set parameters, an automated alert can be sent to operators, or an automated flushing event can be triggered until levels are restored to normal.
Adding instrumentation throughout the water distribution network has become cost-effective. In addition to the affordability of the devices themselves, water utilities can realise a significant number of cost savings through their deployment and usage. Measurable ROI can be calculated in:
- Improved operational efficiency. With a pulse on the entire operations of a Water system, Water Utilities can take proactive measure to improve flow, make repairs before they worsen, and respond quicker to failures in the system.
- Reduced cost of repairs/solutions. Knowing that there is a problem in the distribution network, allows crews to schedule maintenance before it becomes a bigger issue that requires a more costly repair or emergency that disrupts service. Emergency repairs often require special equipment and resources to fix as quickly as possible.
- Reduced customer calls/complaints. Water utilities can address issues before they affect customers, and knowledgably communicate with customers if delivery is affected – all of which boosts the efficiency of customer service.
- Maximise existing Water supply. Leveraging network instrumentation to reduce Water loss is considerably cheaper than adding new supply.
Scale Based on Need
Instrumentation does not need to be an all-or-nothing endeavour. water utilities can start small, targeting critical or problematic portions of the network using only the sensor types needed to monitor specific challenges. For example, if there is a critical main feeding a large urban zone or a major medical facility in one zone, multiple sensors for a variety of data collection on this part of the network may be a priority. Once the benefits of the top priorities have been achieved, it is possible to increase instrumentation to the next tier of priorities at a pace that matches the budget.
Sensors and the collection of data are only beneficial when they can produce actionable insight. Using technologies like the Sentryx™ Water Intelligence Platform can improve the visualisation of assets using multiple formats – maps, graphs, charts, and tables – and analysed and organised into actionable outcomes. Alerts can be sent when parameters are breached, or when readings deviate from an established norm to draw attention to anomalies. Analytics, AI, and machine learning can be applied to the data to extract additional insight, such as trends and predictable outcomes. This helps with scheduling maintenance and capital planning for larger projects.
The challenges that water utilities face are huge. They include increasing and urbanising population, aging infrastructure, more extreme weather events, an aging workforce, and regulatory requirements to deliver minimum pressures and reduce water loss. Never has it been more important to identify, diagnose, and resolve network issues quickly. Instrumenting the network gives Water Utilities a much-needed head-start to optimise existing infrastructure and prioritise capital project expenditure. It is time to instrument the network.