Unlocking the power of water data
More frequent capture of water supply and distribution data is becoming a must-have for utilities as they strive to build network resilience, improve customer experience and meet regulatory expectations. Ovarro’s Associate Product Line Manager for RTUs & loggers Adam Wright shares insights into the latest developments
What can today’s data tell utilities about their water networks?
Datalogging allows water companies to accurately and reliably record parameters for pressure, flow and level across the water network by interfacing with common industry flow meters and sensors to enable efficient network management.
Visibility of district metered areas (DMAs) combined with network models, pressure surveys, consumer flow monitoring and reservoir depth calculations all mean water companies are able to make informed decisions that will result in a reduction in cost of network ownership. With more data comes increased insight and ultimately increased value.
What are some of the data capture challenges faced by utilities?
Key challenges include the increasing pressure on data security, a growing need for more battery power to send more data for longer periods and communications reliability. These are always front of mind for Ovarro when developing and updating its data loggers.
The good news is, technology around sensors, communications and battery-life is advancing rapidly. Ovarro’s data loggers can now communicate with multiple different sensors from one device using the internet of things (IoT). They are programmed wirelessly using a Bluetooth app and data is sent securely to the cloud or the customer’s system.
The rollout of 4G and IoT networks has significantly improved communications. Ovarro has very recently updated the XiLog advanced data logger following an intensive period of research and development. The latest version comes with 4G or NBIoT/CATM1 and Bluetooth as standard, with fifth generation 5G broadband connectivity in the future.
IoT has been a real gamechanger in reducing power consumption and allowing loggers to send data more frequently. Battery technology has also progressed, allowing Ovarro’s loggers to deliver as much as a10-year battery life. This means fewer battery changes and site visits, which reduces environmental impact, while freeing up time and saving costs.
What are the differences between 4G, 5G and IoT networks?
The difference between the available connectivity networks mostly comes down to coverage. Currently, 4G and both narrowband and LTE-M IoT are the most cost-effective options and together cover most of the world. Use of 5G is currently too expensive for most applications, but the price is slowly coming down.
IoT is available globally and IoT modems consume the least power in sending data. This means that users can either send more data or get a longer life out of the battery. By contrast, 4G mainly uses region-specific modems. The phasing out of 3G services means that 4G, which is being built out from legacy 3G networks, will become a requirement. Customers are no longer interested in investing in any technology that has only 3G due to its limited lifespan. It is expected that 5G will eventually replace 4G, though not imminently.
What advances have been made in the reliability and frequency of data capture?
Historically, data loggers would capture data in a set schedule, say one datapoint every 30 minutes, then relay it once a day. This means that if the signal is interrupted for any reason then a whole day's data is lost. The logger would then try to send it the next day. In theory, the data could still be extracted, but it could be days later.
From an operations point of view, receiving the data as close to real-time means that personnel can act quickly to changes and irregularities Where data is delayed or lost, severe pressure changes in the water network might be missed or not acted on until days later.
These occurrences could indicate serious incidents likes leaks, or loss of customer supply. In both cases, the water company wants to see the data as soon as possible to mitigate the impact on customers. We are seeing now that water companies want data sent every 15 minutes or 30 minutes – thankfully, the improvements in battery power means this is now possible.
What part can data capture play in meeting regulatory targets and net zero carbon goals?
Data logging enables efficient network management, leading to resilient and reliable water supplies - a win-win for both customers and the environment.
On the regulatory side, an efficient network means fewer bursts, supply interruptions and leaks.
The larger datasets that the updated XiLog is capable of collecting and sending are integral to the network management activities that help shape and optimise leak detection programmes.
Maintaining operational control over these critical areas will also play a part in utilities in England and Wales achieving the net zero goal on carbon emissions by 2030. If the amount of water lost through leakage is reduced, the volume of water being treated and put into supply is also reduced, cutting energy consumption and carbon emissions in the process. Similarly, if a burst or leak causes low pressure for customers, pumps must work harder, therefore consuming more power. Having reliable data allows action to be taken before any significant customer or environmental impact is felt.
How can water companies ensure they are fully harnessing the available technology?
Right now, water companies should be strongly considering investing in technology primed to integrate with next-generation monitoring systems featuring reliable and efficient communications, advanced water industry focused analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, including machine-learning. Crucially systems also need to be secure in every way - from hardware to cloud.
The data and analytics landscape is complex and fast-moving but will transform how water networks are managed globally. Utilities can ensure they are not left behind by working collaboratively with their suppliers.
Ovarro has a team of data scientists and innovation leaders that continually assess what may be possible in terms of technology and product development. Working in partnership with utilities, so we can adapt our products to their needs and capabilities, is an essential part of this work.
Where should the sector be going from here?
In the near future we can expect to see fully connected networks, with hardware and analytics, making real-time decisions based on water company goals and challenges. The future is not about hardware alone, however next generation data loggers are the key to benefiting from this combined approach, that includes IoT connectivity, big data andadvanced analytics.
The current trend is clear, the market is moving in a direction that enables water companies to receive more and more data. Now, more than ever, the question is about getting the most value out of that data and having the right processes and systems in place to do so. We know that with more data comes more potential insight, but the true value comes when that data is efficiently visualised and analysed.