Forward Looking

Hydraulic modeling made possible by the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure concept helps water system operators improve decision-making and performance.

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A major valve needs replacing. How will the repair affect pressures on the system? In what areas? When is the best time of day for the repair? Which customers will see service interruptions? How can they be notified?

Answers to questions like these are made easier by hydraulic modeling. Schneider Electric now offers such a modeling application as part of its EcoStruxure solution architecture, an approach that helps users apply intelligent energy and resource management across multiple domains of operations.

The hydraulic modeling offering lets water system personnel look ahead in time and see the impacts of various operating choices. This enables better decision-making, more efficient operations and better service to customers. Grant Van Hemert, P.E., water and wastewater applications specialist with Schneider Electric, talked about the offering in an interview with Water System Operator.

wso: What exactly is the EcoStruxure concept that lies behind the hydraulic modeling tool?

Van Hemert: As technology has evolved, we have seen security, HVAC, power monitoring, data centers and other domains create separate, proprietary networks that interface with computers. Over time, the need emerged for exchange of information back and forth between these domains, but because each one was using a proprietary network, there was no easy way to allow that to happen.

So we have what we call Post-it note networks, where someone writes down a parameter from one network and then goes to another computer with a Post-it note and enters the information there. The EcoStruxure philosophy is to bring all these domains together so that they communicate seamlessly — and then go beyond Schneider Electric offerings to tie in water metering, laboratory information systems, GIS and other functions.

Hydraulic modeling is one aspect of this. It requires a great deal of information gathering on what is happening in a water distribution system, as well as interfacing with SCADA and other softwares. A great deal must happen in the background before it becomes possible to actually model a water system. Hydraulic modeling is only one part of a much larger picture.

wso: What would be an example of how hydraulic modeling could help a water system operate more effectively?

Van Hemert: Suppose you need to pull a major valve and replace it. What time during the day, or during the week, is the most optimum time to do that? And how long is your window of time before you reach critically low pressure on the distribution system? You can map out your model into the future.

Suppose you find out at 10 a.m. Tuesday that you need to replace a valve within a couple of days. You model the system and find that if you shut down at 11 p.m., you’re going to have a six- or seven-hour window. That gives you time to procure the valve and assemble all the people, equipment and material you need to go out, shut down the street, and complete the repair. That’s instead of just going out and doing it now, causing a drop in your system pressure for hours, and upsetting your customers.

wso: Wouldn’t an experienced operator know intuitively when the optimum times would be for a valve repair of this kind?

Van Hemert: In a small municipality of about 10,000 people, possibly. But for a larger municipality, there’s just too much information to account for. The way hydraulics work, with multiple possible flow pathways into a given area, it’s very hard without modeling for operations people to have a full understanding of what happens on the system at any given time and how the closing of a major valve would affect system pressures.

wso: If I were using the tool for this purpose, what would I actually see on my computer screen?

Van Hemert: You would turn on the pressure gradient layer of the map, and you would see the background color of the map change as you progress through time, based on the modeled pressure. Green is good, yellow means you have a less than optimal condition, orange means you’re getting into a dangerous condition, and red means you have little or no pressure, to the point where you run the risk of inflow from groundwater.

wso: Can the modeling tool be used for emergency planning, such as to predict the spread of a contaminant?

Van Hemert: That is very easy to do. You would go into the contaminant side of the model, which gives you a map with a neutral background. You would inject the contaminant at a given location and scroll forward through time. The piping would then turn magenta to show where that contaminant is going. After 30 minutes, perhaps you see it in one neighborhood. An hour later and it’s on the whole south side of town. Then you could model possible ways to confine the contaminant and stop it in its tracks by closing different valves. The beauty is that because you’re using a tool based on data gathered from the GIS, from water meters and from a whole variety sources, a maintenance, operations or facility management person can use this tool in real time to predict events, and you avoid the time and expense of bringing in a hydraulic engineer.

wso: Does this tool interact with technologies such as advanced metering infrastructure down to the individual customer level?

Van Hemert: Yes. You can actually go in and see the flow for every meter on the distribution system.

wso: Does this system help simplify communications, such as for notifying customers when they will be temporarily out of service?

Van Hemert: Yes. Suppose you need to shut off a pipe that serves two subdivisions at the end of the network. You highlight that area on the map, and the system will call up those customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and notify those people automatically. Similarly, in case of contamination, you could automatically email a boiled-water advisory, so you wouldn’t have to rely on the media to get the word out.

wso: What other capabilities does this tool provide?

Van Hemert: You can monitor mean water age, which is something the EPA is emphasizing — they want to know how old the water is in the system. This information helps you establish flushing routines to make sure any old water is flushed out on a regular basis, so you can lower your average water age, not just for the towers but for all the piping as well.

wso: Does this modeling tool have applications on the wastewater side?

Van Hemert: At present, this capability is solely for drinking water. We do not yet have a model available for gravity-flow systems.


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