Streamlining with Software

April 18, 2019
Software platforms enhance utility operations

Over the past decade, the smart water space has produced more water management software solutions in response to the growing need in the water sector.

Michael Kanellos, spokesperson for OSIsoft, points out that water is a financially conservative industry and because of diminished financial resources, many utilities have aging infrastructure spread over vast distances.

It is that very factor that is driving innovation, with software being a cost-effective solution, he adds.

“It’s much easier than building a new plant,” he says. “It’s quicker. It’s cheaper. It takes an educational process.”

“In general, what we are seeing in the water/wastewater management space is that water districts are looking at getting better visibility into their remote water assets,” says Parthesh Shastri, who leads business development efforts for FreeWave. “They’re also looking at getting higher fidelity of how their assets are performing.”

While there are many tools on the market that have evolved with features and functionality based on requests from the water industry, Jason Bethke, president and chief growth officer for FATHOM, notes that the most useful technologies feature software integrations and the integration of tools into the business processes of the utility.

“The challenge of displaying a customer’s hourly water usage in an online portal has been solved by nearly every provider,” says Bethke. “But integrating that information into disconnection procedures, payments, collections, e-billing, and even when to roll a truck is still a challenge for the vast majority of utilities.

“We have recently seen the emergence of social media monitoring software/listening tools for cities. This is another great example of where the software has advanced beyond the resources of the cities.”

FATHOM has adjusted its Smart Grid for Water approach accordingly, providing a platform complete with a service to incorporate the necessary business process changes, says Bethke.

FATHOM is partnering with WaterSmart, Neptune, Itron, Master Meter, and Cityworks to deliver the software features while it focuses on providing a fully-integrated platform and service, says Bethke.

“Overall, the software utilities are asking for is rapidly becoming a commodity for utilities,” says Bethke. “The challenge is ensuring the benefits are fully integrated into the utility. FATHOM believes that can best be accomplished by the cities focusing on the service level they wish to achieve, and not necessarily the tools they might use.”

In August 2016, FATHOM installed Neptune’s AMI meters and infrastructure in the city of Zephyrhills, FL, for the city’s 14,000 residential and commercial water customers.

“We weren’t being very efficient. We were losing money and had leaks,” says City Manager Steven Spina. “We were only a third of the way through installing meters. FATHOM came in to us with a complete package of updating all of our equipment, providing the billing services, and basically bringing us into the 21st century.”

Now, Zephyrhills has 100% AMI coverage, with FATHOM executing the utility billing and call center operations on behalf of Zephyrhills. Data first goes through FATHOM’s managed systems and the city has access to the information as soon as FATHOM does.

An online customer portal enables water customers to check their water usage throughout the day. Customers get notifications telling them of an unusual water consumption pattern.

After the first year of the new technology, the city generated a savings of nearly $350,000.

“It was a financial savings, but there also was an environmental benefit as well because now we can track leaks much quicker and resolve them sooner,” says Spina.

Spina recommends that any water utility making technology changes that include outsourcing to companies such as FATHOM engage in a strong public relations campaign to let the residents know what’s happening and the resulting impacts, as well as map out how the changes will be rolled out.

“Technically, there are very few day-to-day impacts, but we get a lot of people who still want to come in and pay in person,” he says. “That’s a surprise to me. I pay my bill online. I can go in and check my usage and see what’s going on. I appreciate those aspects because I’m a customer, too.”

Spina says making the change entailed some growing pains, although overall it has been a positive experience.

“We built a new city hall. We’ve done away with our drive-through window and people didn’t react well to that,” he says. “Some of it is just a change element. We also were doing rate increases, so a lot of customers tied the rate increases to the FATHOM implementation. That wasn’t the case.

“In fact, at a council meeting, I had to emphatically say this is not a FATHOM issue, this is a city issue,” he says. “People said we were raising the rates to build a new city hall. Two different funds not related at all. Perception becomes reality. We did have a rough implementation, but we’ve overcome that and I’m glad we did.”

FreeWave focuses on an industrial IoT through its ZumIQ platform. Shastri notes that water utilities are leveraging the platform to get better insight into their networks and better visibility to drive decisions that feed into water modeling software.

FreeWave’s ZumIQ is an integrated set of software engineering and administration tools for designing, developing, deploying, and operating industrial applications in real-time at the edge of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) networks, including the water and wastewater sector.

For water/wastewater treatment plant automation, FreeWave’s high-speed data solutions are designed to drive real-time automation, reduce head count, and ensure uptime. The solutions include WavePro Industrial Wi-Fi, WAVECONTACT (modular I/O), and the app-programmable radio platform ZumLink 900 Series.

For water/wastewater tank level monitoring leveraging 900 MHz FHSS technology, FreeWave solutions are designed to transport real-time data and alerts on tank levels and conditions with tank level automation and remote monitoring achieved through ZumIQ App Server Software.

To address chemical injection, FreeWave’s solutions for water/wastewater applications and smart sensors include WavePro Industrial Wi-Fi, WAVECONTACT (modular I/O), and the FGR2 Series.

ZumIQ is designed to provide end-users with the ability to drive growth from the data generated by remote sensors and devices through extracting, analyzing, taking action, and transporting information to maximize an operation’s business capacity and capability.

Edge intelligence is among the benefits provided by ZumIQ, which provides real-time processing when and where it is needed, enabling rapid decisions at the point of action to quickly reduce response time and optimize the use of network resources.

Central to the ZumIQ platform is a secure Debian developer’s environment, offering a standard Linux developers solution, including a package management system. Developers can program with any language compatible with a Linux kernel, including Javascript (Node.js), NodeRED, and Python.

ZumIQ is designed to automate complex analytical processes for IIoT data such as real-time exception reporting, predictive analytics at the edge, remote monitoring, and command and control.

It can securely connect and communicate globally with any device at any site.

With a license key, end-users can use open-source programming languages to develop apps that automate processes and control data flows within the network. The ZumIQ software development kit offers access to a suite of tools to design, create, and test radio-managed applications.

Among those applications is access to a website encompassing a consortium of industrial app developers sharing ideas and best practices on process control and SCADA.

ZumIQ is designed to integrate seamlessly with the device’s serial and Ethernet interfaces, allowing the end-user to create a monitoring system or notification solution with minimal capital or operating expenses.

Shastri points out that in the past, utilities would use an automation system such as a SCADA system to pull data—such as daily or hourly—for whatever the case called.

“Now as we’re getting more into the industrial IoT realm, you are looking at collecting data at a much higher frequency and using that data to drive operational decisions,” he adds.

That goes to a more real-time information delivery on operating processes, equipment issues, and leakage problems.

“The ZumLink products include communication and computing and processing at the edge, all in one package,” says Shastri. “Now, not only are you collecting data from the edge, but you are processing that at the edge and shipping it back to your management systems for a low-power, long-range communication network.

“Now you can collect data at a higher frequency, look at it, and based on the conditions you set up, send all of that data in batch mode or reduce that data and send only changes. You’re getting more timely information, a richer information set, and better-utilizing available network bandwidth and giving more value out of the same infrastructure that’s deployed out there.”

One application of the technology is in the water treatment plant of the Sangamon Valley Public Water District (SVPWD) in Mahomet, IL, where the goal was improving operational efficiency.

The city—with a population of nearly 8,000 residents—is the oldest community in Champaign County. Its population has mushroomed in recent years, necessitating an investment of millions of dollars in water, sewer, and fiber optic lines to support commercial and industrial growth.

The wireless networking platform selected for the project included FreeWave Technologies transmitters, receivers, and transceivers that communicate with each other using jam-resistant 900 MHz Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology.

An MM2-T FreeWave radio is connected to each remotely located RTU and the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). SCADATA Input/Output (I/O) devices communicate with the central SCADA system where it interfaces with SCADATA software to provide critical data to operators. The radios feature fast data transmission as they “talk” to each other for greater accuracy.

The new SCADA system communicates directly with the water treatment plant’s PLC and wirelessly to the remote wells and booster station controls for an integrated control and access by the SVPWD operations team.

The solution is designed to offer SVPWD greater flexibility to track, manage, report, trend, access, archive, and control equipment and settings. Notifications and alerts are sent to key parties in real-time via cell phone as SMS/text and/or email.

FreeWave’s high-speed wireless radios are designed to enable communication between sites. The PLC offers more advanced user settings for water treatment plant equipment. The SCADATA program is hosted on a PC at the water treatment plant, enabling access wherever an internet connection is available.

To date, the SCADATA system has saved SVPWD 50% in costs, with more operational and financial efficiencies anticipated.

OSIsoft creates software for collecting and understanding data from industrial machines and devices.

Kanellos points out that the pumps and valves of utilities are “spitting out data in different formats—sometimes once every 15 minutes and some send that data out thousands of times a second.”

OSIsoft captures, orchestrates, and organizes it. “It’s like an EKG machine for utilities,” says Kanellos. “People can see what’s going and take actions.”

The first time end-users utilize the OSIsoft software, they seek energy savings, says Kanellos, adding that energy costs comprise 30% of a water utility’s operating expenses.

After acquiring and using the software, water utilities begin to monitor their system and are able to make decisions, such as opting to save 6 to 12% off of an energy bill by using one less pump, for example, says Kanellos.

“They can do predictive maintenance,” he adds. “They can use the data to look for things like a valve taking 4.5 seconds longer to open than it used to or to see situations where a pump is consuming a lot of energy.

“The outflow of water is not that great. What that might indicate is that the power blades might have worn down.”

Another beneficial use is using the data to portend problems in meeting regulatory requirements, Kanellos adds.

KISTERS’ software “ensures high-integrity monitoring data is fed into models to lessen the inherent uncertainty of modeling results,” says Becca Fong, business development manager. “We want to avoid garbage in, garbage out.”

The company’s technologies also have the computing power to run models and then store, distribute, and/or revalidate results, she adds.

While KISTERS software can integrate with an array of modeling software, the following frameworks are preferred: Delft-FEWS by Deltares, HEC by US Army Corps of Engineers, and MIKE by DHI.

Cities don't run a single model of software, Fong points out. “Many are likely to run an average of six or seven models which forecast water quality, snowmelt, and even sewer operations,” she says. “The Delft-FEWS platform is invaluable as it connects many models and new connections can be made easily in order to simulate real-world processes.”

About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.

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