Analytics and Efficiency – Keys to Water Security in Asia Pacific

water scarcity

In late 2018, I was fortunate enough to attend WaterLinks Forum in Manila. The Forum, which assembled over 200 water professionals from throughout the region, tackled the subject of the water-food-energy-climate change nexus as a way to solve Asia’s water crisis.

At the Forum, I presented on some of the tremendous challenges ahead of us with regards to water in the greater Asia region and more specifically, I discussed the enormous opportunity that exists for the industry to collaborate to help solve some of these challenges with the emergence of advanced analytics. I felt it would be worthwhile sharing some of my notes from the Forum.

Challenges to Water Security
It is well publicised that many Asian cities are experiencing unprecedented population growth. More people want to live in our cities due to the opportunities and economic prosperity they afford us.

This rapid population growth, coupled with inadequate planning, competing demands for water and climate change are all contributing to water security challenges.

However, an opportunity exists to leverage the power of advanced data collection technologies and analytics to improve the efficiency of our water supply systems and networks.

Changes in Computing
The rapid emergence of data analytics and advanced monitoring technologies is one of the most significant trends that is quickly transforming the water sector globally.

Technology adoption in the water industry is slower than in other industries. But everyone understands that is necessary due to the regulatory environments in which we operate and the fact that we are dealing with such a critical public health component. It is important to do the fundamentals right before getting over-complicated.

Over the last 10 years, the technological advances in our daily lives have been significant: free video calling, share-economy for transportation or accommodation and instant connectedness to family/friends through social platforms. During the same 10 year period, the increase in computing power has been 40X, while the cost has come down 1MX.

These improved technologies have increased the expectation of the consumer, and the water utility customer has also raised their expectations. We, the water utility, should be telling our customers that problems are going to happen and when (or preventing the problems before they occur), rather than the current method of them telling a customer about a problem after they have become aware of it themselves.

Efficiencies Realised from Technology
It is easy to see the tremendous efficiencies technologies have had on several industries; IT, retail and manufacturing. Yet utilities, and specifically water utilities, have seen no real gains in efficiency from the power of technology. This can change.

Water is extremely expensive to catch, treat, and pump around a network (even more so where desalination is used). Yet many cities lose considerable amounts of water before it reaches the end customer.

Water needs to catch up with the other sectors. Water needs to apply improvement processes driven by available technologies to see productivity improvements.

Utility Performance Stage
The power of advanced analytics can make our utilities much more efficient and enhance the security of water for generations to come.

Water utilities are on a journey to move up the performance curve. From trying to understand if they have a problem, to how fast they can be alerted to / solve that problem, and ultimately, how they can predict and solve problems before they impact their customers and significant costs are incurred.

Emergence of Analytics
The data collected by water utilities, and the advanced methods of processing this data, is introducing dramatic changes in the way our water cycle is both perceived and operated.

There is a significant shift from situational awareness to intelligent decision support. This was demonstrated well on Day 1 of the Forum by a Korean colleague who spoke of the Augmented Reality 3D GIS interface that helps untrained water treatment plant operators better understand their work processes.

We can better monitor processes and to react, learn, and operate systems much more efficiently. This includes machine learning, real-time monitoring, the collection of underground asset intelligence, predictive insights through the use of AI.

But, most important is that the technology is used for the outcomes it drives, not because it is a fancy new gadget. We should be asking questions about how the technologies are going to contribute towards improved operations, customer experience or the bottom line:

  • How can we reduce customer outages by predicting or identifying burst events?
  • Will this help me reduce non-revenue water (NRW)?
  • How can we increase our revenues without raising tariffs?
  • What can we do to reduce environmental pollution incidents from our sewerage system?
  • How do I optimise the allocation of scarce capital to achieve our organisational goals?

I’ll give several examples below of how we are helping solve these challenges with intelligent decision-support and smart water network solutions.

Detect Events in Real-Time
Having your finger on the pulse and understanding what is occurring within your water network at any particular time is relatively common. But it is not only having the ability to detect events within the system in real-time that is valuable, but it is also the insight that can be provided around root cause from data integration and analytics methods.

We help asset owners understand pipeline network health through real-time monitoring, allowing preventive maintenance to occur.
When events are detected, operators are alerted immediately which leads to a reduced consequence of failure (fewer customers disrupted or disrupted for less time).

For example, there are examples where we at 3.45 am each day sudden consumption in the network was causing a pressure transient, a surge, in the pipeline network. This ultimately led to a pipe burst due to the high stress placed on the asset. We have the real-time intelligence to identify, localise and intervene before these events cause disruptive and expensive pipe failure.

This capability also extends to reducing NRW. NRW is a complicated practice, but having the ability to look at DMA information, customer consumption data, pressure transient and acoustics together in real-time, and apply analytics, can help us understand not only what is happening in the network, but what needs to be done to rectify it.

Intelligent Urban Watersheds
With the combined power of the Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics, machine learning and advanced control theory algorithms we are able to solve urban watershed challenge faster and more cost-effectively than ever before.

Robust digital copies of the urban watershed bombarded with real-time sensor and forecast data, provide powerful continuous modelling to optimally manage critical assets. The same platform can simultaneously run multiple future exploratory models of infrastructure solution sets for planning considerations. Read more here.

We can empower operations with real-time decision support intelligence that reduces sewer overflow events into environmentally sensitive waterways – making our communities more liveable.
Optimise future investment decisions and utilise existing infrastructure where possible. Read about some Case Studies here.

Maintain Asset Reliability with Lower CAPEX
It is important that water utilities are collecting data based on asset risk. For example, a large diameter pipeline supplies water to 300,000 people requires a different approach and data collection method to a small diameter pipeline supplying water to 50 people; just like a pipeline underneath a major arterial roadway requires a different approach to a pipeline running through a rural environment.

Implementing this defensible approach to buried pipelines allows water utilities to maintain the reliability of service to their customers, extend asset life and optimise capital allocations to those specific areas at the highest risk of failure. Read more here.

Reduce Apparent Losses (Commercial Losses)
The customer water meter is like a cash register. In most countries, water tariffs/rates are how the utility generates the majority of its revenue. So it is extremely important that all these cash registers are working correctly! By leveraging data science, we are able to identify water meter under registrations so more targeted replacements can occur. Read more here.

Taking smart water metering data, applying advanced algorithms that look at consumption data trends and considers degradation of meters over time.
We are able to determine meters that have a high probability of under registration. This can then feed into existing water meter replacement programs so that targeted replacements can occur based on risk.

Add 2% to top-line revenue – these under registering water meters can be costing water utilities a significant amount of lost revenue.

Attracting and Retaining Talent
If we want to attract the best talent to our water businesses (and retain them!), we need to be seen as a preferred industry and demonstrate we are adopting the latest technologies.

Many industries are losing their business intelligence due to older worker retirements; water utilities are not immune. The vast network and operational information are lost when key employees leave the water business. This needs to change.

Younger operators, asset managers, asset strategists or water loss engineers – they expect digital technology to be used in their daily work. They want to work the same way they interact with family and friends; the same way they use consumer services/platforms.
They want the instant insight, feedback and on-demand information to make better more accurate decisions at work. For example, they want to know about burst pipeline/pump station failure when it happens through their smartphone…. or even better know it is going to happen so they can prevent it.

Conclusions
Rapid urbanisation has coincided with rapid digital improvements. Simultaneously, water is going through a significant phase of innovation and technological advancement.

While technologies and analytics are not going to solve water security issues overnight, they will play a compelling role for decades to come and make our utilities more efficient.

We need to look at changing the way it’s always been done to ensure the security of water for future generations. The benefits of what we collectively can achieve are so significant they cannot be ignored.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on January 7 2019.

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