A Wave of Smart Water Solutions

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Automation and Analytics Create New Opportunities for System Optimization Across the Water Sector

Smart water infrastructure has quickly become an important urban infrastructure solution in both the United States and around the world. It has offered new solutions in response to cities, communities and even countries struggling to handle a growing number of water management challenges compounded by aging infrastructure, water loss, water scarcity, population growth and more.

All signs indicate that the water infrastructure challenges of today will only continue to grow more severe. Likewise, all signs point to a massive increase in smart water technology investment over the next decade.

According to a 2017 report from Bluefield Research, the global water industry will spend more than $20 billion on software, data and analytics solutions over the next decade. That report, “U.S. Smart Water: Defining the Opportunity, Competitive Landscape and Market Outlook,” indicates that the trend will position technology providers to deploy state-of-the-art solutions to enable more advanced levels of system intelligence, real-time network visibility, energy efficiency and customer service.

“Historically, utilities have been hobbled by their inability to generate actionable insights from disparate network and water usage data, but this is changing with more advanced data management and cloud-based solutions,” says Will Maize, research director at Bluefield Research. According to the report, in the near-term, advanced water meters (AMR, AMI) will represent the majority of forecasted expenditures at 82 percent from 2017 through 2026.

Explaining Smart Water

The implementation of smart water technologies can significantly impact a water utility’s asset management practices. Automated meter reading (AMR) or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems, for example, can not only improve meter data management, but can also allow a utility to apply data to improve areas like pressure management and leak detection. Other software systems such as SCADA, GIS, CMMS and hydraulic models are also helping deliver accurate data about a system’s operating condition while providing real-time, actionable information for which utility managers can base decision making on. In essence, smart water systems are all about letting the technology do the work.

Given the nature of marketing in the water industry, the term smart water may vary depending on who you ask. For now, it seems the term has evolved from describing a single piece of technology to perhaps now describing a variety of monitoring, control and analytics solutions.

Andrew Chastain-Howley is director of water solutions for Atonix Digital, a Black & Veatch software subsidiary.

“Because smart water is one component of our smart integrated infrastructure services, I would define smart water as the practice of combining intelligent water infrastructure with data analytics in a way that leads to actionable information,” he says.

Chastain-Howley says he believes that smart water will address issues and provide solutions across the entire breadth of the water industry, adding that it can encompass a number of technologies and capabilities.

“Smart water uses sensor technology, automation, real-time control, big-data analytics, and other tools to capture and integrate data, turn it into meaningful information, and apply the resulting knowledge to improve performance and efficiency,” he says. “It’s a still-evolving, big-picture way of looking at water and asset management.”

Let’s examine some use cases of various smart water technologies and applications across the industry.

Improved Metering, Billing & Customer Service

Water utilities need accurate data for a number of reasons. First and foremost, utilities need data from meters for billing. They also need data to measure non-revenue water (NRW). Water utilities are encouraged by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) to audit for NRW, but these audits are only as good as the data on which they are based. AMI provides the data foundation for accurate audits. In addition, customers are demanding better service and more information from utilities on how they are using water. AMI technologies provide utilities with timely information about water use and the data necessary to, in turn, help their end users view and manage water use to save money and resources.

Utilities should be careful not to view AMI as only benefiting meter reading, as it can also be integrated with other systems, such as a hydraulic model to help predict system performance. Data can also be incorporated into a utility’s CMMS. Therefore, meter data can essentially impact capital improvement planning and improve customer service. Some common — including long-term — benefits of implementing AMI can include:

  • Better meter accuracy, which can impact replacement of aging, inaccurate meters;
  • Efficient meter reading and re-reads;
  • Reduced truck rolls and staff time for manual reads;
  • Reduced staff time for billing exceptions and estimations;
  • Self-Service — AMI provides tools to assist end-users with near-real-time alerts and improved understanding of consumption and ability to view and manage their water use;
  • Ability to perform remote disconnect;
  • Eliminate door tags and physical visits including non-pay disconnects; and
  • Theft — near-real-time theft/tamper alerts;

City of Fairmont Utilities

The City of Fairmont Utilities in Northern West Virginia recently upgraded its metering infrastructure to better monitor its 14,500 water meters, reduce non-revenue water and meet customer needs.

“We serve many rental properties and apartments, so there’s a lot to manage in terms of monitoring customer usage and handling inactive accounts,” said Mark Moore, utility controller for City of Fairmont Utilities.

The utility implemented a Sensus AMI solution and has since installed 14,500 Sensus iPERL residential meters, and a combined 200 commercial meters. The utility bolstered its deployment with Sensus FieldLogic and Regional Network Interface (RNI) software, delivered via the Sensus Software as a Service (SaaS) platform. The Sensus FlexNet communication network and Sensus Analytics served as the backbone of the utility’s smart water network, enabling the utility team to remotely monitor water usage and increase billing accuracy.

According to Sensus, the City of Fairmont Utilities has since achieved more than 99 percent accuracy in its meter readings while saving $30,000 a year by reducing non-revenue water, improving billing accuracy and enhancing overall system performance. Additionally, the utility has notified nearly 3,000 customers of leaks or issues with continuous usage since deployment, helping customers reduce excess water consumption by an average of 25 million gallons per year.

Avon, Ohio

The City of Avon, Ohio, situated near Lake Erie, serves approximately 10,500 residential and 1,000 commercial accounts. With a history of obsolete accounting records and older meter reading technologies (AMR), the city’s water system was not keeping pace with its changing needs.

In February 2016, the City of Avon’s water utility team began putting together a request for proposal (RFP) for a fixed network meter reading solution. At this time, Badger Meter’s BEACON AMA managed solution, which combines the BEACON AMA software suite with ORION Cellular endpoint technology, was mainstreaming in the market. As the industry’s first endpoint using existing cellular networks, ORION Cellular eliminates the need for utility-owned fixed network infrastructure. Seeing the potential of this market-disrupting technology, the City of Avon switched gears and issued an updated RFP for a hybrid meter reading solution, one that included both traditional fixed network technology and cellular technology.

The City of Avon’s utility team selected Badger Meter’s BEACON Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA) managed solution with ORION Cellular endpoints and Badger Meter’s E-Series Ultrasonic meters. BEACON AMA is a cloud-based software analytics platform, which allowed Avon to utilize both the new ORION Cellular endpoints as well as Badger Meter’s traditional fixed network technologies.

“With BEACON AMA, we were able to move to 24-hour meter reads across our entire system. We are now monitoring more precisely, and more importantly, billing our customers more consistently, using actual meter reads rather than estimates,” says Natalie Cifranic, billing clerk for the City of Avon.
Avon’s old meter reading solution required utility technicians to spend more than 160 hours (or two weeks) every month monitoring the water meter reading system, manually reading meters and acting on the data. By implementing the BEACON AMA managed solution, Avon cut that time down nearly 88 percent to about 20 hours (or one day) per month.

As part of the BEACON AMA solution, water utilities can offer customers access to EyeOnWater, Badger Meter’s smartphone and web-based application that provides timely and accurate data about their water usage. As the City of Avon water utility team monitors for leaks throughout its system, its water customers can also monitor for unexplained increases in their usage and notify the utility. The utility currently has about 1,500 people signed up for EyeOnWater, and customers are actively engaging with their consumption patterns and notifying the utility about concerns. The EyeOnWater application has also helped the utility customer service team reduce time spent handling billing disputes.

Cedar Hill, Texas

Faced with increasing water volatility, aging infrastructure, decreasing meter accuracy and the demand for more customer-centric tools, Cedar Hill needed to take action to meet and ensure future sustainability and their goal of becoming a data-driven organization in the most cost-effective way. In 2012, the City of Cedar Hill, Texas, made a leap forward in technology with FATHOM’s proven Smart Grid for Water platform. By upgrading their automatic meter reading (AMR) meters to a fixed network advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) platform coupled with FATHOM’s advanced data analytics, the city significantly increased the volume, velocity and accessibility of meter read data allowing for a clearer, near-real-time assessment of water demand and quicker response times for water leaks and losses.

Cedar Hill’s customers are now provided up-to-date data to manage their own water usage and are empowered to make the decisions that impact their water usage and control their own costs. Cedar Hill also improved the data accuracy within the billing and metering systems, ensuring that all water usage is properly billed, and reduced non-revenue water. The new AMI system eliminated monthly meter reading routes spanning 210 miles and reduced emissions and fuel costs.

By implementing modernized data management and billing services, Cedar Hill has reduced the costs of billing by $394,000 per year, while increasing revenue by $426,000 annually. The net benefit of $800,000 annually coupled with cost containment guaranteed for 15 years has freed significant capital for the city to invest in debt reduction and infrastructure.

SCADA & Monitoring

Remote Wells & Booster Station Controls

The Sangamon Valley Public Water District (SVPWD) in Mahomet, Ill., implemented a SCADA system to communicate with remote wells and booster station controls. This created integrated access for the district to track, manage, report, trend, access, archive and control equipment and settings from a central location instead of sending personnel to remote locations to collect data and monitor the water system.

The city’s new SCADA system from FreeWave Technologies helps simplify the communication process with the remote wells and increase efficiencies across the entire system. The system has saved the district 50 percent in costs, with that expected to rise as leaks and inefficiencies are detected and corrected.

Reducing Overflows

When the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) was struggling to keep up with the growing demands of cleaning more than 200 sites on a monthly basis to help prevent sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), it turned to monitoring technology for a solution. The results have been not only lower cleaning costs while preventing SSOs; SAWS is also getting longer life out of its pipeline assets.

Some of the system’s pipes are considered high risk and can be damaged by high frequency cleaning (HFC). Although HFC has long been considered a best practice in the industry, it could also be described as a last resort because of the high operating expense and asset wear. In addition, HFC is essentially a “blind” process because there is no visibility to pipe conditions between cleanings.

SAWS started its journey to optimized maintenance with a one-year study to determine the return on investment achievable by using the internet of things to automate and determine when to clean instead of cleaning according to a set schedule. SAWS selected 10 high frequency cleanout sites. SmartLevel remote field units from manufacturer Smart Cover Systems were installed at each site to monitor levels and watch for pattern changes. For this demonstration project, SAWS suspended its HFC cleaning protocols and shifted over to cleaning only when the SmartLevel system indicated it was necessary.

Using the patented analytical software tool called SmartTrend, SAWS monitored day-over-day level trend changes and received automated messages for trend anomalies. This analysis of the real-time monitoring data automatically detected small but potentially important changes in water levels. It showed systematic variances from “normal” diurnal fluctuations. Daily automated scans of each site revealed rising trends, indicating either a potential downstream build-up or falling trends, signs of a potential upstream build-up.

The combination of real-time monitoring and trend analysis provided powerful, predictive insights into the behavior of the collection system enabling users to have visibility of a potential problem days or even weeks ahead and concurrently providing continuous overflow protection. During the 12-month test period, SAWS performed only seven cleanings based upon the monitoring and trend analysis (five at a single problematic site). This compares with the 120 cleanings called for under normal HFC scheduling, representing a 94 percent reduction in scheduled cleanings. The number of times maintenance trucks were mobilized to clean HFC sites was reduced by 94 percent.

Looking Ahead

Climate change, increasing urbanization, tightening of regulations and water scarcity are some of the many global changes that water utilities will soon be forced to address in cost-effective ways. While these drivers for change are pushing utilities for more efficiency, there is also a technological revolution taking place.

A new array of smart water tools is available to help solve modern water challenges. The intersection of global water challenges and the technological opportunities emerging could be an opportunity for the water sector to change the adoption narrative that has typically lagged behind other construction and utility markets.


This article was compiled by Water Finance & Management staff.

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