Maximizing Data

Modeling, SCADA and Data Integration

Making the Most of Modeling, SCADA & Data Integration for Optimal Decision Making

By Andrew Farr

According to the U.S. EPA, there are approximately 155,000 public drinking water systems (publicly or privately-owned) and more than 16,000 public wastewater systems in the United States. Today, these water and wastewater utilities are using technology such as geographic information systems (GIS), monitoring systems and models more than ever before to manage their systems and enhance decision making.

Meanwhile, software manufacturers are flooding the marketplace and introducing this asset management technology to assist utilities in making these decisions. But with new products, seemingly constant software upgrades and new integration capabilities of this technology, utilities must be aware of the need to maximize the potential of their systems.

“I think most utilities of reasonable size and sophistication have a good understanding of the capabilities, but I don’t think many have really maximized the use of these systems in an integrated asset management process,” says Robert Mankowski, vice president, simulation product management, at infrastructure modeling software company, Bentley Systems. “Very few today have really integrated them together so that you have the systems talking to each other and being used to address overall business problems.”

Hydraulic modeling for water and wastewater systems, for example, is one technology that has progressed to where it is now used in different ways than originally conceived. Utilities generally use various types of models for asset management, such as water quality modeling, energy use modeling, reliability and performance modeling and operational analytics. Hydraulic modeling primarily refers to modeling the flow of water and is commonly employed by utilities to help manage and prioritize assets accordingly. According to Mankowski, it’s the process of creating a mathematical representation of a real system, and that model is used to simulate the hydraulic behavior of the system. “In a nutshell, the purpose of modeling is to gain a better understanding of the real system, which leads to better decisions and better performing assets,” says Mankowski, who specializes in asset performance advancement.

In terms of its progression, modeling has evolved over the years from its use in traditional design and planning, now to strategic management and decision-support. Because of this, its implementation can be critical for water and wastewater utility asset management.

As an example, a water utility may model its distribution system to help determine the capital improvements necessary to meet the current and future needs of the population it serves. A utility may also use a model to understand how to respond to emergencies like pipe breaks or other large unplanned water usage, such as firefighting. Using a model can also provide information about minimizing impacts to the overall system or to show how to properly flush a system in response to an unexpected water quality event like a chemical spill.

Still, modeling is merely a representation of a system that is generating data from numerous sources like smart metering, GIS, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and other monitoring systems, and the increase in their use is leading to increased monitoring and measurement of assets. Mankowski says that although utilities are looking for the best ways to drive decision support from one or more of these systems, they should really be looking to achieve value by integrating them with what he calls a common information management environment.

“When implemented, a common information management environment allows owner-operators to apply the commonality of business processes and information models across the full lifecycle of their assets and magnify the benefits of each individual information system they’ve deployed,” he says. “The convergence of information, operational and engineering technologies and their data will assist water and wastewater owners to move from a reactive to proactive, predictive mode in maintenance management.

“This will lead to better-informed emergency response to main bursts or dealing with combined sewer overflows, for example, and will improve operational efficiencies such as energy and carbon management.

“But more importantly, it will deliver a better level of service to customers.”

Convergence of Information

The ability to integrate various systems into a model is what makes them unique. Mankowski says that the integration of more systems will ultimately help utilities apply their models more successfully to enhance their business process. GIS, for instance, is one component that has been integrated with models for almost two decades, he explains.

“At first, GIS was primarily used as the source of information for the geometric and physical characteristics of the system,” he says. “In other words, the pipe locations and physical properties such as material, diameter and year of installation were managed by the GIS and imported into the hydraulic modeling software to create the basic model. This was a big turning point in the level of detail of modeling when we went from working with schematics of a highly simplified system to all pipe models.”

GIS integration today is much deeper and richer than that. Modelers can work directly in GIS software products, and have bidirectional synchronization between the models and GIS. One of the main benefits of this is that it can extend the reach of the modeling information to executives, managers and customer service personnel that would never directly use a hydraulic model, but have access to the GIS.

While many water and wastewater utilities do successfully integrate GIS and multiple other data sources into models, it’s important to remember that models are not monitoring systems. They provide data from a simulation of the existing system or of a proposed system, whereas monitoring systems like SCADA provide a remote view of real-time or near real-time measurements at specific points of the actual system. Models can provide simulated measurements at every point in the system being modeled. Models can even fill in the gaps of information where there are no sensors in the SCADA system.

“Models can be used to predict the behavior of the system into the future, which is of course impossible to actually measure,” Mankowski says. “Models can also be used to predict how the system will behave if certain capital or operational decisions are taken without actually making those changes to the real system. For example, an operator can predict how tank levels and pressures in the system will change as the result of turning a pump on or off without making any changes to the real water system by using a model. This provides the operator with valuable insight that can support decision making.

“A SCADA system can’t predict the future other than by simple extrapolation and they can’t fill in between sensors without some gross simplification. That’s why SCADA and modeling technologies are very complementary.”

In a similar fashion to data from SCADA systems, Mankowski says data from AMR/AMI systems can also be integrated into models so that utilities can observe patterns of water use or for forecasting water demand.

“The historical data gathered by smart meters can be used to estimate average and peak demands and diurnal patterns needed for the model, and the real-time demand data can be used to set the initial conditions for simulations and for demand forecasting,” he says.

“This illustrates why we believe a common information management environment can be so valuable. It’s the integration of all these systems applied to business processes that help utilities achieve better outcomes like reduced costs, improved service and less risk.”

Challenges

While data integration is a focus for utilities in developing a comprehensive asset management process using modeling, a challenge that can exist is in the application of software by planners and operators. But even that seems to be improving, says Rajan Ray, director of marketing at Innovyze, a developer of hydraulic modeling software that focuses on integrating these various tools.

“There tends to be silos in terms of data and knowledge between utility departments,” says Ray. “It’s not uncommon for utility planners to fully understand the benefits of SCADA and operations for their planning purposes, and conversely, system operators may not fully grasp the benefits of GIS and modeling for their day-to-day operations. “What?s emerging these days is that we’re seeing more collaboration amongst these departments with operational-based hydraulic modeling tools helping to bridge the gap between operations and planning.”

“I think there are also a lot of [utilities] that don’t realize the suite of tools they have,” adds Erick Heath, vice president and business director for the Americas and Asia Pacific at Innovyze, who helped start the company in 1996. “There’s [tools for] energy analysis, water quality modeling, pressure zone management, automated calibration routines, and optimization routines for system operations. There are a lot of tools that serve different purposes, but they?re all integrated together with the hydraulic model being a core element.”

Heath says new modeling applications also allow users to apply data received from the field, citing an example from 2009 when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had more than 40 water main breaks in a single month and was able to use its capital planning modeling platform to effectively manage and prioritize their water asset replacement and prioritization strategy in living, breathing manner. In such a situation, modeling helps develop a defensible framework for a utility to determine likelihood of failure, consequence of failure and risk analysis for every asset within their system.

What Utilities Need Today

Ray adds that modeling has significantly evolved over the years to where utilities now have an integrated tool to evaluate the abundance of data coming in from the field whether it be SCADA, GIS, AMI, etc. He says a common goal for water and wastewater utilities going forward will be to use these predictive simulation models as a base for integrating with other utility data silos.

“For many years, it was typically one or two utility professionals and/or their consultant who really knew the ins and outs of their hydraulic model thus really understanding how their system operates,” he says. “In order to relay the results, hard copy reports and maps were commonly generated. Now, with more integration with SCADA and GIS, the data and the actionable modeling results they?re obtaining is being utilized across the utility using secure, configurable web maps, reports, and dashboards.

“Operators are able to develop what-if scenarios for system disruptions such as a pipe burst, pump failure, or tank out of service. Customer service is able to further explain potential challenge areas to their customers when they are able to view water quality and pressure results on a map-based view. Management can tract the data trends regarding water loss and energy management based on results from a hydraulic model. Planning can integrate the modeling results in their ongoing asset management and capital planning efforts.

“In about the last five years, we’ve seen a great shift in the knowledge sharing because of the integration aspects of these tools. Specifically, hydraulic models have established a core role in these intelligent water decision support systems to help utilities drive efficiency gains and become more proactive in the management and control of their distribution systems.”

Mankowski also sees some general patterns when examining utilities? needs and how they are looking to implement models and use the results they get from them.

“One pattern is starting with modeling as a point solution in master planning and design, and evolving to using modeling as an integral part of an overall asset management process for intelligent infrastructure,” he says.

“In the developing world, we see a lot of emphasis on planning and design to improve the level of service within the utility’s coverage area. We have some great examples from India of utilities that have transformed intermittent water supply systems into reliable 24/7 sources of clean drinking water. We see utilities across the world focused on the reduction of non-revenue water. This generally has two components — real losses and apparent losses and modeling can be very useful in dealing with both. The cost of energy for pumping can often be one the largest operating expenses for a water utility, and we have seen utilities do extensive modeling of their energy costs and integrating these models into real-time systems to improve operational decisions.

“I think utilities will continue to look for capabilities that can help them minimize the lifecycle costs of owning and operating their infrastructure, while continuing to improve the levels of service they provide with low levels of risk. This is the definition of asset management, and, ultimately, that’s what it is all about.”


Andrew Farr is the associate editor of Water Finance & Management.

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