IoT Is Changing Asset Management in Water Utilities

Utilities was named one of the top IoT solutions spenders in 2019, slated to spend $61 billion on smart grids for electricity, gas and water. An industry made stronger by access to data, water companies in particular can improve customer response time, optimize operations and make better business decisions. But in order to harness meaningful data, water companies need to be smart about how they implement IoT into their processes, including asset management. Interconnected data sources offer utility workers the transparency and control they need to serve customers, deliver clean water and protect our environment’s resources.

Challenges to Effective Asset Management in Water Utilities

As technology advances, water management has become a lot simpler. But it still has its own set of complexities: as aging infrastructures, worker turnover and changing regulations. What’s more, water utility companies must overcome these barriers while also protecting the environment.

Think about it – widespread running water dates back to the mid-1800s. The associated infrastructure is wearing, complicating water asset management. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineer’s latest Infrastructure Report Card reports that our country’s water infrastructure is in need of at least $1 trillion worth of updates to existing water systems in order to meet the drinking water infrastructure needs of an expanding population. Without these updates, our drinking water is currently graded at a “D”, with wastewater earning at a “D+” – not great news for us water drinkers.

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Moreover, a 2018 report from the US Government Accountability Office projected that 8.2 percent of existing water operators will need to be replaced annually through 2026, resulting in a significant loss of institutional knowledge. With this, new hires will need to be trained year-over-year and departments will have to work harder to maintain best practices.

As environmental sustainability takes center stage, rules and regulations are constantly changing to protect the health of our planet. In the near future, we may see bans on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and possible revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule, which will affect water distribution and management indefinitely. Utilities across the board are feeling pressure to improve sustainability by reducing electrical and chemical use and embracing green technologies, even when seemingly unfeasible.

But what is feasible is implementing smart IoT solutions. When integrated with a utility’s infrastructure, data retrieved from IoT devices can reframe the way customers are served and business goals are met, ultimately improving the operational efficiency.

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The Benefits of IoT Systems on Water Asset Management

IoT devices collect and share data in real time, providing utility companies with information they need on demand from multiple sources. Water professionals already rely on data for process monitoring and control, flow measurement, utility billing, maintenance management and more. Today, IoT technologies offer this data in a simplified, integrated manner to optimize water asset management, increase efficiency and give managers the information they need to make better business decisions. Some of the ways that IoT can improve water systems are:

  • Reducing response time for service calls
  • Saving water by reducing leakage and increasing conservation
  • Increasing revenues with more accurate metering technology
  • Saving energy and chemicals by optimizing process controls
  • Preventing sanitary sewer overflows and environmental damage, avoiding regulatory fines

IoT systems are built to fit the needs and priorities of the individual utility company, and are flexible and scalable to their specific setup. Most utilities have some basic infrastructure to integrate with IoT such as supervisory control and data acquisition systems, geographic information systems, and smart meters.

IoT and the Mobile Worker

Field workers are the boots on the ground for water utilities. They work shifts covering 24/7, often in remote locations, and work not only scheduled operations, but also emergencies. As such critical players, it’s important they aren’t overlooked when designing IoT systems.

With mobile technology, field technicians can respond to emergencies more quickly and accurately. Thanks to IoT networks, data can be tracked, recorded and instantly available for clear, quick and detailed communication. With data available on the go, utility workers can assess a situation in real time on site, for quick and accurate decision making.

For one example, field workers can use mobile GIS mapping to accurately locate infrastructure to expedite finding valves to shut off water for a main break repair or traveling to the location of a sanitary sewer overflow or other trouble calls – reducing water loss and preventing environmental damage. Another example is automated meter reading, where mobile devices connect to smart meters for drive-by meter reading, which is much more accurate and faster to report than manual readings. This can also save significant costs on personnel, overtime, vehicles and fuel.

Water utilities may not be widely known as being on the cutting edge of innovative technologies, but the industry is increasingly adopting IoT solutions. They hold invaluable potential to improve the way utilities go about water asset management. To learn more, read this whitepaper.