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Australia moves to dump ‘dumb’ water

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article image Yarra Valley water plant

Many water utility operators are facing the challenge of maintaining or improving the service and profitability levels of their operations within existing water billing rates. The water industry is also under pressure to reduce water loss, impacting the ability to increase efficiencies and productivity.

Standard data-less, or ‘dumb’ water systems cannot provide the accurate, real-time analysis of water usage, profitability and productivity required by stakeholders in the Australian Water, Waste Water (WWW) sector. Smart Water Networks or SWANs are increasingly being adopted in Australia to address the need for this high level data.

Smart Water Network projects in Australia range from the collection of metering data in real time to big data analysis across multiple existing data sets. This article analyses the true benefits of Smart Water Networks and how they can be implemented to achieve optimal efficiency in the industry.

Smart Water Networks and benefits

The water industry’s answer to the Smart Grid used by the energy industry, a Smart Water Network aims to use information technology and an optimised version of a utility's pre-existing assets to extract meaningful data about a water facility. Data-gathering sensors are deployed to collect information about the physical layer of pipes, pumps, reservoirs and valves, and software is used to interpret the data and assist with informed decision-making and action to improve efficiency.

The Smart Water Network integrates data to adjust operations in order to improve bottom-line performance while maintaining or improving customer service; collected data is also leveraged to provide real-time visualisation of the network.

For instance, the now defunct National Water Commission collated data from urban and rural water authorities that allowed the industry to compare their financial, asset and customer service performance. The data collected in the National Performance Report encourages utilities to implement KPIs to identify areas of improvement, define realistic targets, design action plans, and track improvements over time. However, generating and interpreting KPIs by accessing data stored in separate systems can become a tedious and labour-intensive process.

Smart Water Network technologies can automate these processes and provide accurate and reliable data that allows efficient KPI compilation. SWANs additionally introduce business intelligence platforms that simplify enterprise planning and operations.

Implementing a SWAN

There are clear advantages in upgrading from a data-less water management system to a Smart Water Network. A system of technologies within SWAN contributes to reducing water loss management dramatically when compared to a dumb water platform. Integration of technologies such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), pressure management systems, hydraulic models, meter data management (MDM) solutions and advanced metering infrastructure/automatic meter reading (AMI/AMR) systems addresses the four main aspects of water loss that can occur before upgrading from dumb water systems: active leakage control, pipe repairs, pressure management and asset management.

Leak detection systems (LDS), also known as computational pipeline monitoring (CPM), are specific software tools that analyse real-time signals from SCADA systems. Operators can use these tools to identify and locate leaks in different areas of the water network. Even utilities with low water loss can benefit, since the cost of keeping their water loss to a minimum may far exceed the efficiency of an active leak control system.

Pipe repairs are managed by an outage management system (OMS) using the utility geo database and interfaced with other enterprise systems such as the CIS, the SCADA system, the computerised maintenance management system and a hydraulic model. This integrated approach streamlines field communications and operations to efficiently manage utility resources and minimise customer inconvenience.

Efficient pressure management usually combines the installation of equipment and devices with their respective control software, for example, using pressure reducing valves and variable speed pumps. The use of variable speed drive technology in many parts of the water management cycle allows utilities to achieve the desired efficiencies, enabling the water manager to set the speed of a motor driving a pump closer to the point where the pump is more efficient.

The Altivar Process variable speed drive by Schneider Electric is part of the growing body of devices based on the Internet of Things, bringing data from devices to the supervision level in a control room, and allowing the delivery of the right information to the right people at the right time. Advanced network operations are characterised by dynamic valve settings and pump scheduling based on variable water demand.

Asset management addresses the ‘replace or repair’ dilemma faced by most utilities with respect to their obsolete assets and financial constraints. Hydraulic models, geographic information systems, computerised maintenance management systems and other technology tools effectively support decisions involving predictive versus corrective maintenance. This allows operators to make informed decisions on suitable actions, saving time and money in the process.

Jumpstarting a Smart Water Network initiative

Having observed the obvious benefits of a Smart Water Network, Australian water and waste water companies are recognising the need to move beyond dumb water to boost efficiencies by facilitating system planning, streamlining daily operations and improving water loss management.

How to jumpstart the transition from dumb water to a Smart Water Network in 4 simple steps and 2 years:

Within the next few weeks

Use the services of knowledgeable individuals to perform an objective assessment. Identify those areas within the utility in maximum need of efficiency improvements.

Within the next six months

Plan a roadmap by first identifying cases where low upfront investment can produce positive results over a relatively short period of time.

Within the next year

Identify areas where Smart Water Network benefits can be expanded. Name a high level sponsor for the program and agree on scope, budget, and resources.

Within two years

Create a long-term sustainability plan for the program, create succession plans for sponsors and leaders, and deploy long-term monitoring and measurement.

Schneider Electric at Oz Water

Simon Zander, the National Segment Manager - Water, Waste Water at Schneider Electric , will be discussing the company’s range of Smart Water offerings at the Schneider Electric booth (J37) at the Oz Water event in Adelaide Convention Centre on May 12th – 14th.

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