Leveraging a Flexible Network and Partner Ecosystem

Nov. 11, 2019
Itron’s network solutions are flexible, allowing utilities to develop new solutions to meet new challenges as needs evolve.

Itron has traditionally been focused on serving electric, water, and gas utilities, but with recent acquisitions and partnerships they have found themselves in a unique position to expand their offerings to utilities and cities around the world.

With its expanded and proven portfolio of industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions, the company has tapped into other IIoT devices and sensors, as well as other departments within municipalities and smart cities to further the concept of resourcefulness.

“[For us,] resourceful use means not only the efficient use of electricity, gas, and water, but wastewater too. We’re not just looking at leaks, we’re now using the power of IIoT-based technology to identify and solve other problems that are associated with water, such as the impacts of flooding and sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) events,” said Stephen Johnson, Itron's consumer energy management product line lead said during Itron Utility Week in October, 2019.

As part of this initiative, Itron has been working with a large U.S. water utility and a partner to develop a solution to detect and prevent SSO events with an IIoT sensor-based approached. When the utility was considering implementing an AMI network from Itron, they wondered if they could use the same platform to monitor their wastewater treatment facilities. The utility is located in a part of the country hit heavily by hurricanes year after year, so when there is a hurricane that causes flooding, that makes it harder for the city to keep wastewater from entering the fresh water supply.

Using Itron’s battery-optimized wireless communications module – a cost-effective, energy-efficient sub-GHz wireless communications device – the utility worked within Itron’s broad partner ecosystem to develop a wastewater monitoring solution that could address these challenges.

“[For this utility] it’s very important to both monitor the inflows and outflows to make sure they're efficiently using available infrastructure, as well to monitor water levels so that they know when a problem is going to occur,” Johnson said of the project.

Utilizing Itron’s IIoT network, sensor inputs from connected devices can be combined with wastewater monitoring to prevent SSOs. These devices can even be co-located with lift stations or on manholes or distribution lines to build a robust flood monitoring system. To date, the utility has completed phase one of their SSO detection system at 30 lift stations across their distribution network, and plans to expand their sensor deployment over time until the entire system is connected to the network.

“With the final build out, this utility will be able to more efficiently manage their flow monitoring, as well other freshwater monitoring for flood detection,” Johnson said.

The utility is already realizing the most immediate benefit of the SSO detection and prevention solution.

“Using this solution to mitigate SSO events means that the utility is increasing safety for the community, while avoiding cleanup bills or the EPA fine that would come with experiencing an overflow event like this,” Johnson said. “The secondary benefit is that, with that same data collection and delivery solution and network, other sensors at the lift stations could simultaneously work to monitor inflows and outflows, making sure the utility is efficiently matching sources to sinks as wastewater goes to treatment plants.”

With Itron’s battery-powered IoT sensors are designed to optimize battery life and the overall performance of the solution. In the field, applications developed with this technology allow a utility to power everything down and come back on, instantly reconnecting to the network or a mains-powered device to send data. The battery-powered devices can then be put back to sleep, further extending battery life.

“We're no longer requiring non-metering devices to communicate through a metering system only,” Johnson said. “Instead, as part of our hosted network infrastructure offering, we are offering the option to manage data routing to the correct location, as determined by the utility.

“For example, let's say all the utility wanted to do was provide data into a SCADA system. In that case, our solution has the ability to collect, package, and transmit sensor to other integrated systems need to consume that data. This flexibility allows the utility to view or analyze it in any kind of way that they want.”

It is a flexible solution because the IoT data can also be sent to mobile devices and applications, alerting someone in the field to a problem as it happens.

“One of the reasons why we use flexible protocols and infrastructure is because utilities need these systems to evolve over time to meet a variety of challenges both today and tomorrow,” Johnson said.

Itron realizes that the organizational transformation that has to happen in parallel with the technology innovation at today’s utilities is a challenge. Their strategy to address this challenge is to partner closely with utilities and cities to help facilitate those conversations by proving the real value of technology investments over time.  “It's an evolution and not a revolution,” Johnson said.

”That's why here at Itron Utility Week, the theme this year has been the ‘Power of Community’, because we know that we can't solve these problems alone, we need partners and we need other stakeholders in smart cities and municipalities to come together to have these conversations and think about solutions for resourcefulness in a different way.”

To learn more about delivering scalable, multi-purpose industrial IoT network solutions across the globe with Itron and Cisco, visit https://go.itron.com/WaterWorldCisco or answer eight questions to find out how much water and money you could be saving with AMI. https://go.itron.com/WaterWorldCiscoAMIValueCalculator.

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