Zac Barkjohn: A smart utility network is a workhorse of data collection. It offers visibility and control across the entire water system. It encompasses, and bridges the gap between, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and more power-hungry communication networks.
AMI is designed to support many battery-powered endpoints, distributed spatially at the edges of the water system (at every customer’s meter). The architecture and infrastructure that support meter reading can also do many other important jobs.
SCADA requires hardwired power and significant up-front investment, which is why it’s typically deployed only at central system points such as treatment plants and pump stations. Water utilities often desire increased system visibility — but it might be too costly to deploy SCADA equipment and power to 1,000 system points.
In a smart utility network, battery-powered devices and networked two-way communications (such as the Sensus FlexNet® communication network) collect data and provide system visibility at a price point lower than ever before possible. In addition to on-demand meter reads, it can yield distribution system situational awareness, help track down water losses, support monitoring and modeling, and lots of other useful capabilities. You can also update firmware by remote and transmit special instructions to specific devices.
The ability to remotely update firmware or configuration settings is critical, when you consider that utilities are deploying thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of smart meters. Reconfiguring over the air yields massive time and cost savings.
Zac Barkjohn: Increasing system visibility fundamentally changes how you manage a water system. All of the benefits stem from informing operational decisions and reducing response time. You can optimize and automate your system considerably more.
For instance, an application for pressure monitoring and management (such as the Sensus Analytics Pressure Profile) is a huge source of potential benefits. When a customer calls to report low water pressure, traditionally the utility would need to roll a truck to deploy a pressure sensor on the nearest hydrant, and monitor that for a week, just to even begin to understand the problem.
A smart utility network would be constantly monitoring customer meters, as well as control valves and other system points. Remote monitoring of water with smart products (such as Sensus Ally® Water Meters, or the Sensus® Smart Gateway Sensor Interface) can easily help utilities build out a smart utility network. These products enable remote management and monitoring of data. System operators would already have all this data at their fingertips, so they can immediately run analytics to identify the problem and target a repair. That’s a much faster response, which enhances customer satisfaction and reduces losses.
Even better is when you automate system analytics to proactively scout for problems. Then operators can arrange to fix problems before the customer notices. This helps keep customers happy, saves the utility money, and makes the job of water professionals much easier.
Zac Barkjohn: Again, this all comes down to increasing system visibility. The battery-powered devices deployed across a water system provide measurement as well as continuous monitoring. Gathering that data is the key to making profound system improvements. Previously, measurement and monitoring have mostly been short-term and ad hoc.
For example, pressure-reducing valves (PRVs) are a key part of the infrastructure of any water system. PRVs maintain safe pressure levels; so as pipes grow more brittle with age, the importance of PRVs increases. Utilities have deployed PRVs across their system; they’re highly geographically dispersed, and they’re often in locations where it’s difficult to wire them for power.
In the absence of monitoring, and aside from periodic maintenance checks, most utilities don’t really know what’s going on with their PRVs. So they manage them by failure, which can have consequences. When a PRV fails, the pressure might suddenly jump from 80 to 120 psi. Think about what that can do to aging pipes in a water system — and to customers’ plumbing and fixtures.
A smart utility network can provide hydraulic monitoring of all parts of the system, including PRVs. Analytics can predict which valves might be nearing the end of their useful life or experiencing problems. This supports repair or replacement based on actual conditions, before a valve fails and damages pipes.
Distributed monitoring across your network also helps minimize water losses. Most utilities monitor pressure at central points, like treatment plant intakes, pump stations and tanks. This can tell you that a break has occurred; you can see the tank draining and the pumps running full speed. But then: where is the leak?
With district metering at strategic system points, you can quickly identify where the break is in your system. You’ll have a more thorough understanding of network hydraulics, beyond the few locations where you have SCADA. Less guesswork, less time, less lost water.