Advantages of Implementing Smart Water Networks

March 1, 2011
Integrating a Smart Water Network is a great way for utilities to give new life to investments they have already made.

By Manuel Parra

Integrating a Smart Water Network is a great way for utilities to give new life to investments they have already made. Most water utilities have laid down their basic foundations in both assets and technology and have shifted their focus to leveraging these expenditures in the infrastructure they have in place.

The premise of Smart Water Networks is the use of information technology to optimize a utility's capacity. The first step for a water utility to move toward implementing a Smart Water Network is to establish its priorities for improving efficiency. Then, evaluate the information available and identify which pieces of data are missing and could be achieved by integrating existing IT infrastructure. With this information, the utility will be ready to plan new investments to fill in the technology gaps.

The three pillars of Smart Water Networks:

  • Information: making full use of all data produced by a water utility
  • Integration: utilizing current IT systems to maximize previous investments
  • Innovation: having the flexibility to meet future challenges
A Smart Water Network is not simply an individual system that optimizes a network's efficiencies but rather a means of linking together multiple systems within a network to share data across platforms.

Considering many of the common challenges facing utilities, including leak management, regulation compliance and customer service, utilities can improve performance by integrating systems in a manner that pinpoints specific problem areas. By addressing the gaps in the available information, a utility can accurately set goals, plan investments, and solve some of its biggest challenges.

Real-Time Data Integration

There are basic levels of Smart Water Network integration that will provide utilities with almost immediate benefits. One specific capability that can quickly pay dividends is transforming real-time data into valuable information for faster decision-making in areas of the utility outside of the control room. By moving real-time information out of the control room, utility operators can stay aware of what is going on in the field at all times and respond quickly and appropriately when a problem arises.

Monitoring real-time data improves maintenance procedures because the system is automatically generating information as events occur. For example, when there is a faulty piece of equipment or when a pipe leaks, utility managers can dispatch crews immediately to the exact spot of the incident with specific information for that type of equipment.

Using an advanced GIS system to send crews to the exact spot of the incident also cuts labor costs. Utilities can dramatically decrease the time between when an incident occurs and when the problem is fixed, thus reducing the risk and the cost associated with that event.

In addition to improving response times, linking real-time data from the field has also proven critical for constructing accurate hydraulic models that utilities use to compare what should be happening in the field with what is actually happening. By performing online simulations, utility operators have a very powerful tool that allows them to establish an accurate baseline to gauge their network's operational efficiency.

Improving Customer Satisfaction

Having a flexible system allows utilities to accurately set future objectives. Importing data from customer information systems into the SCADA system helps utilities gain a more precise view of production versus consumption.

This allows utilities to develop a water balance and set forth advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) objectives based on key performance indicators (KPI). Also, by linking hydraulic model simulations with the customer information system, utilities can communicate with customers more accurately about when - and how long - their service will be interrupted for maintenance activities.

Accurately Forecasting Demand

Utilities rely on historical data to create a demand curve so they can properly adjust their production to ensure they are operating at peak efficiency. But by using an AMI system, that process can be automated so pumping regimens can be adapted to more accurately fit the demand. AMI still is not as widely used in the water industry as it is in the energy industry, although its ability to streamline demand curves to set more accurate thresholds will undoubtedly be one of the main pieces of the puzzle that will help utilities optimize their production and operations in the future.

While utilities are monitoring water demand they also need to be cognizant of the energy they are consuming throughout their own system. Pumps are one of the main energy-consuming pieces of equipment and optimizing their use can lead to significant cost savings. By using a demand management system (DMS) to track the water demand, utilities can program pumps to meet the needs for specific times of the day, saving both water and energy.

Water utilities around the globe are faced with the challenge of providing a high level of service for customers while operating in a manner that is efficient and profitable for the organization. Many utilities have found that implementing advanced IT solutions is an effective means of striking the balance between meeting the quality standards customers expect and maximizing resources to garner a high return on investment.


About the Author: Manuel Parra is the water product center director at Telvent, a thought leader in the water utility industry that is at the forefront of developing technology that advances the Smart Water Networks concept. Prior to joining Telvent, he worked at the Inter-American Development Bank as a consultant. He received his degree in Business Administration from the University of Murcia (Spain) and his B.A. in European Business from the Manchester Metropolitan University (UK).

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