Implementing IoT for Smart Water Management

Nov. 11, 2020
Smart devices and sensors can make water management more efficient and safer for consumers and workers through real-time data collection, alerting and actions to prevent issues from occurring.

In the United States, nearly 6 billion gallons of treated water is lost each day due to leaking pipes. Additionally, contaminants from old pipes or pollution can suddenly and unknowingly enter the water system, putting consumers at risk. Water systems are becoming more challenging to manage as assets are spread across a physical footprints spanning miles.

As infrastructure is updated, utilities can implement Internet of Things (IoT) technology throughout to help make water management more efficient and safer for consumers and workers. These smart devices and sensors can help with real-time data collection and alerts to prevent issues from occurring and reduce the workload on the workers responsible for physically checking every inch of infrastructure.

When evaluating how to start updating infrastructure with this technology, utilities should keep in mind a wide range of possibilities for IoT in water management. At the forefront, security should be a priority. A foreign attack on a community’s system can cause irreparable damage. Processing data in an efficient manner will also be crucial, and it starts with installing monitoring systems for water usage (Advanced Metering Infrastructure), leak detection, and water quality to gain real-time data and ensure better situational awareness. Scalability and manageability of the system should also be kept in mind.

Given the strong digital presence in our everyday life, it might be hard to believe that many utilities still track devices and data manually. This outdated and inefficient process can lead to old, inaccurate and incomplete measurements of data and assets. When upgrading, utilities need to think about how to scale to thousands — or even millions — of sensors, water meters and valves. When handled correctly, the infrastructure update can unlock new insights and reach unprecedented levels of efficiency.

Securely Integrate New Devices

It is essential to ensure that your network and devices are secure so that no one can wreak havoc on the system. Safeguard a secure start by identifying and mapping out all your assets to determine the proper security strategy for your network. One forgotten device can leave the entire network vulnerable, so both legacy and new devices should be identified as in-place, or needed. Isolate the network into different zones to help reduce the risk of an attack spreading across the entire network. Real-time threat detection and alerts can be built into the network so that your IT team is notified of vulnerabilities or threats, and can address them immediately.

Utilities should take operational efficiency into consideration when adding new devices, as the amount of data collected will increase exponentially. All utilities are not built the same, so add IoT devices that have the greatest impact for your network and customers, whether that be operational efficiency, public safety, public awareness, or some other issue of vital importance to your specific goals.

Another important step that should be considered when integrating a new network is meeting standards and compliance codes. A compliance-oriented and systematic approach will allow you to have a clear understanding of your current capabilities, and a good idea of which gaps need to be filled and what action must be taken. It’s practical to take steps to build cybersecurity through asset discovery, network segmentation, threat detection and mitigation, and integrated IT/Operational Tech (OT) security operations center.

Process Data at the Edge

The integration of new IoT devices across the infrastructure landscape will create a massive amount of new data to collect and process. Moving this data to the enterprise or cloud can be a heavy and costly lift, and it can also delay the processing and alerting of essential data for triggering a timely response to a potential hazard.

To reduce overall network costs and to speed data processing, intelligence should be embedded at the point where it’s collected. This is called edge computing, which can allow for different types of automatic processes across the system. Utilities can better achieve real-time data analysis and program the devices or infrastructure to have set policies so that they conduct specific actions based on the data output. This is essential for remote pieces of infrastructure and devices that help with preventive maintenance so that issues can be caught as early as possible and actions can be taken. This type of automation can deliver several benefits for utilities with larger footprints. It also allows for the collection of in-depth insights for continued infrastructure improvements and for expanding infrastructure to new areas.

When deployed incorrectly, edge applications can get messy. Regular operational tasks such as remotely monitoring device performance, keeping it up to date and applying patches can become a nightmare. Another potential problem utilities can run into when edge computing is improperly deployed is that local decision-making may have to be done at the control center, slowing responsiveness to a local issue. In the case of data reduction, excessive data amounts that have to be transmitted over the communication network might overrun that communication system’s capabilities or incur unneeded cost.

When setting up edge computing, it is vital to deploy in areas where local decisions need to be made regardless of connectivity to the control center or where large amounts of data can be reduced. Reducing data close to the edge can increase the availability of connectivity between the remote location and the control center, reducing cost or allowing other data sources to use the same connection.

Management Benefits

Updating infrastructure with these new devices and sensors can help deliver a number of benefits to utilities and their teams when it comes to maintaining physical infrastructure and ensuring the safety of utility workers. With the influx of real-time data, teams are able to manage thousands of miles of infrastructure, reducing the need for maintenance staff to physically check and make changes. Utilities can be alerted when a piece of infrastructure is at risk and either have automated processes in place in the network to make the necessary change or proactively send their team out to address the issue.

Set actions include having sensors that can alert that one area is being inundated with water, automatically diverting the excess supply across another piece of the network; or flag that the water level is not holding at its standard level, thereby alerting to a leak in the pipe so that a team can be dispatched to resolve the issue before it gets worse. IoT can even monitor and provide real-time data on the location of each team member to help ensure their safety in the field. Finally, as infrastructure ages and chemicals or contaminants enter the water, IoT can help alert utilities to these dangers.

Real-time data and alerts allow utilities to take immediate action to prevent contaminated water from entering homes or businesses and track the source to alert consumers and health officials. Depending on how your infrastructure is organized, there are numerous processes that you can automate, gathering real-time alerts and insights to reach new levels of efficiency.

Looking Toward the Future

As our infrastructure is updated, adding IoT devices can help improve the health, management and planning for water utilities. Real-time data and insights can help utilities be more productive with actionable policies for infrastructure and pinpoint areas that need attention. This technology can help prevent the waste of one of our most precious resources, help keep workers safer and more productive, and prevent contaminants from reaching consumers. WW

About the Author: Todd Frederes is a solution architect for smart cities and buildings with Cisco.

About the Author

Todd Frederes

Todd Frederes is a solution architect for smart cities and buildings with Cisco.

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