The water utility of the future – from smart metering to digital transformation

The water utility of the future – from smart metering to digital transformation

How can water utilities build smarter infrastructure to gain insights about their systems for  more informed operational decision-making? That’s the subject of a new guide from the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Sensus, a Xylem brand. The guide offers an in-depth exploration, and real-life examples, of how water utilities are moving beyond smart metering to digitally transform systems and operations that help manage water more efficiently and effectively.
Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has helped utilities optimize their operations. With its integration of smart devices, data and a communications system, AMI helps utilities better identify when, where and why water is being used. Smart meters, sometimes called the cash register, are just the beginning. Leveraging a wider menu of advanced technologies, water utilities are embracing a digital transformation with even more intelligent devices that connect insights to action with real-time data—and they are using applications and services tailored to their needs.
In other words, utilities are building a smart utility network for operational efficiency and to enable their customers to better control their water use. When smart devices are connected, they can provide insight into all aspects of a utility’s operations and help utilities tackle the numerous challenges they face, such as climate change, population shifts, industrialization, rising energy costs and aging infrastructure. Utilities also face the normal day-to-day challenges, such as meeting customers’ needs, rate fluctuations, aging infrastructure and regulatory compliance.
In a recent interview with AWWA, Zac Barkjohn, Product Manager, Utility Solutions, at Sensus, a Xylem brand, explains how a utility’s digital transformation helps solve these challenges.

What is a smart utility network, and how can water utilities and their customers benefit from adopting this type of solution?

Zac Barkjohn: A smart utility network is a workhorse of data collection. It offers visibility and control across the entire water system. It encompasses, and bridges the gap, between advanced metering infrastructure and more energy-intensive communication networks.

In a smart utility network, battery-powered devices and networked, two-way communications collect data and provide system visibility at a lower price point than ever before.

In addition to on-demand meter reads, a smart utility network can yield distribution system situational awareness, help track down water losses, support monitoring and modeling, and more. Utilities can also remotely update firmware and transmit special instructions to specific devices.
The ability to easily update firmware or configuration settings is critical, when you consider that utilities are deploying thousands (or in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of smart meters. Reconfiguring over-the- air yields massive time and cost savings.

In a smart utility network, which kinds of data and analytics offer the greatest potential benefits to water utilities?

Zac Barkjohn: Increasing system visibility fundamentally changes how you manage a water system. All of the benefits stem from informing operational decisions and reducing response time.
For instance, an application for pressure monitoring and management, such as the Sensus Analytics Pressure Profile, provides numerous benefits. Traditionally, when a customer calls to report low water pressure, the utility would roll a truck to deploy a pressure sensor on the nearest hydrant, and monitor that for a week, just to even begin to understand the problem.

A smart utility network would be constantly monitoring customer meters, as well as control valves and other system points.

System operators would already have all this data at their fingertips, so they can immediately run analytics to identify the problem and target a repair. That’s a much faster response, which enhances customer satisfaction and reduces losses.

How can adopting a smart utility network help utilities take better care of their distribution network?

Zac Barkjohn: Again, this all comes down to increasing system visibility. The battery-powered devices deployed across a water system provide measurement as well as continuous monitoring. Gathering that data is the key to making profound system improvements. Previously, measurement and monitoring have mostly been short-term and ad hoc.
For example, pressure-reducing valves (PRVs) are a key part of the infrastructure of any water system. PRVs maintain safe pressure levels, so as pipes grow more brittle with age, the importance of PRVs increases. Utilities have deployed PRVs across their system – they’re highly geographically dispersed, and they’re often in locations where it’s difficult to wire them for power.
A smart utility network can provide hydraulic monitoring of all parts of the system, including PRVs. Analytics can predict which valves might be nearing the end of their useful life or experiencing problems. This supports repair or replacement based on actual conditions, before a valve fails and damages pipes.

Download the guide to learn more

Utilities can make their systems more efficient, sustainable and secure by integrating the right mix of smart water technologies and applications.
Download the AWWA and Sensus guide, Building the Water Utility of the Future, to learn step by step how to create a smart utility network.
Learn how a smart utility network is helping Dallas, Georgia, reduce annual water loss, and how Park City, Utah, is using smart devices to extend its monitoring reach.