Dr Mike Strahand discusses the unique challenges facing water companies and how the industry can achieve truly smart and intelligent distribution network systems.
The water industry is awash (pun intended) with talk of smart water networks. It seems like not a week goes by without a conference or event discussing smart billing, smart metering, smart networks and in truth it’s becoming difficult to separate the wheat from the chafe.
“If we call it SMART, they will come” to paraphrase Kevin Costner’s line from Field of Dreams, seems to be the order of the day when deciding what to call your conference!
Two types of ‘Smart’
There’s smart billing and leakage management, which is all about ensuring that the correct quality of water at the correct price reaches the customer. This involves mass deployment of smart water meters and the low energy data transmissions systems needed to get the data back to somewhere central. This side of smart can be seen as not particularly exciting; it’s really just doing the same things we always did and did but with a lot more knowledge and control.
The other side of smart is using new and existing water QUALITY data sets to do far more exciting things. There are as many definitions of smart as there are conferences about smart water. This one from the Smart Water Networks Forum is as good as any.
“A Smart Water Network is the collection of data-driven components helping to operate the data-less physical layer of pipes, pumps, reservoirs and valves.”
The SMART information makes the physical materials (pipes, valves, reservoirs, meters etc) last longer, work better and crucially helps to deliver better quality water at a lower cost to the customer.
There is often an overemphasis on quantity, billing and leaks and an under emphasis on quality. Zero leaks are a laudable aim, especially with current leakage around the 20% mark, but the quality of what comes out of the tap is just as, if not more important.
Our smart water networks must deliver high quality water too, if possible at lower cost. Managing water quality require water quality measurement too.
Research and Development
Many studies have shown that water quality in distribution is poorly understood, what can be said is that the second water leaves a water treatment plant, the quality of that water deteriorates as it interacts with the water pipes.
Deploying water quality sensors throughout water distribution networks delivers two types of benefits. Firstly, the water quality data alone can be used simply to show regulatory compliance and with some basic data analytics. Secondly, it can also be used as an event indicator.
As processing power has leapt ahead, and as AI has become more mature and powerful, far more exciting possibilities open up. At the recent WWT Smart Water Networks conference this definition of AI was presented by Peter Jackson (Chief Data Officer for Southern Water):
“…… any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals.”
The goal of any water company is to deliver wholesome, palatable, safe water to customers. We are already in a world where all the components needed for truly smart networks are available. Reliable, small, low powered sensors, data transmission devices, data storage platforms, data analysis platform incorporating AI are there “off the shelf”.
UK water plc has scale, level of investment, number of customers, regulatory drivers, regulatory incentives, and not just penalties, that mean that we are uniquely positioned to start to implement truly smart water networks, now.
Smart Technology Solutions
Within reach is an INTELLIGENT, not just smart, water distribution network that predicts a forthcoming event, discoloration, taste and odour, loss of disinfection, burst or leak and automatically acts to prevent or mitigate the event. A network that measures, thinks, predicts and takes actions in the best interests of its customers.
Not only is this within reach, some companies are already well along the journey towards smart water networks.
Data from deployments in several UK water companies is showing how water quality data can be analysed to give insights that allow proactive management of distribution networks. Huge cost reductions can be made in areas such as mains rehabilitation, burst identification and prediction, control of flushing operations or even the removal of the need to flush.
Sensors can be installed anywhere in a network from the service reservoirs to meter chambers and PRV chamber right to the hydrants within DMA’s.
Real data 1
One great example is the use of multi-site water quality monitoring in a trunk main. By using simple pattern recognition on the data below it is possible to calculate:
1) Velocity of water in the pipe. This can used as a surrogate flow indicator to verify existing flow meters and identify anomalies
2) The real water quality decay rates, very useful for water aging.
3) The effect on the pipe of water quality, pipe condition monitoring
Real data 2
This data shows the effect of a small valve operation on two DMA’s. The upstream operation caused small and short-lived turbidity events.
Innovation and collaboration plays a vital part in providing solutions to the challenges faced by the Water Industry. Advances in robust, high-precision, reliable and smart network monitors are revolutionising water quality management in water distribution systems.
Understanding network behaviour by using SMART monitors allows operators to truly understand the networks, predict their behaviour and plan solutions, all whilst being able to condition the mains for resilience or have long-term maintenance strategies in place to reduce customer complaints and safeguard against water quality failures.
What are we waiting for?
Food for thought!