Water Wisdom

Real-time monitoring and analysis of multiple parameters can help utilities operate efficiently and provide reliable, affordable service.
Water Wisdom
Customers can view the WaterWiSe data on a GIS-based display.

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Complex water distributions systems can be difficult to manage without comprehensive data. The question then becomes how to collect the necessary data, analyze it, and turn it into meaningful information that can drive day-to-day operating decisions.

To address that need for information, Xylem and Visenti have developed the WaterWiSe Advanced Water Network, a monitoring, diagnostics and control platform based in the cloud and using sensor arrays (supplied by YSI, a Xylem brand) deployed at strategic points around the distribution system.

The solution provides real-time overview and control of water distribution networks, with benefits that include early detection and location of leaks and valve failures, online hydraulic modeling, automated analysis and operating recommendations based on customer demand, and energy-saving, automated, demand-based pump optimization. Tim Finegan, director of environmental monitoring products for Xylem, talked about the solution in an interview with Water System Operator.

wso: How would you describe the need for an offering of this kind?

Finegan: Right now, distribution monitoring is typically done by sampling at discrete points on the network. Samples may be taken only on a monthly basis. What we offer is the benefit of continuous, real-time information. One benefit is the provision of decision support tools in real time.

That can give a utility automatic, early warning, so they can respond to a main break before customers are affected. It can allow them to optimize energy usage by developing pumping models based on demand. And it can provide an entire model of the distribution network so they can really understand the dynamics of the entire system.

wso: From a physical equipment perspective, what does this system consist of?

Finegan: Above the ground, there are simple enclosures, each with a Radio Telemetry Unit (RTU), a battery, a cell modem and a solar panel. That is cabled underground to the heart of the system, which is a sensor array. We deploy two types of sensor arrays measuring hydraulic parameters, such as pressure and acoustics, and water-quality parameters including turbidity, dissolved organic matter, redox, pH, temperature and conductivity. These units are placed at critical points on the distribution system.

wso: How is all this data managed once it is collected?

Finegan: The data from all the sensors is transmitted directly to a secure cloud-based server. There a Data Management and Analytics tool constantly aggregates the data, modeling it and comparing it to historical data. All this information is then presented to users in a password-protected web interface. One challenge in collecting real-time water system information is dealing with the volume of data that can be produced. The WaterWiSe system automates the interpretation and helps turn the data into meaningful information.

wso: Why is it important to collect real-time data?

Finegan: It’s difficult to make decisions based solely on samples taken periodically at several locations. It’s a lot easier to make decisions when you can look at a continuous stream of data. For example, typically there’s not a lot of available data about water quality in the distribution system — yet it’s common for disinfectant levels, turbidity and other quality parameters to change over time. This system helps provide a baseline for understanding the chemical and physical dynamics of the system.

wso: How can utilities use this system for hydraulic modeling?

Finegan: We first look at historical data to understand what the norms are, so that we can then predict what usage and other expected values are going to be. The challenge with any water system is that it’s variable. Pump pressures change, water quality changes, so it’s hard to flag an alarm or detect an event based on a change alone, because maybe that change is expected as normal. What we do is analyze that historic data to see what the expected values are. Then we continually compare that to the real-time data coming in. When those two don’t match, that’s how we’re able to flag events.

wso: What are some common uses of the modeling information?

Finegan: Predicting demand is a big one. Naturally in a drinking water distribution system the amount of water you need to supply is variable. If we can model and predict demand, then we can use that information to optimize how we operate pumps and open and close valves. Also, if we’re going to need to shut down sections of line, we can model the impact to customers. We can predict based on the maintenance we’re going to perform how many customers at what points on the system are going to feel the impact.

wso: How can this system help utilities save energy?

Finegan: In a water system, a lot of excess energy can be used driving pumps that don’t need to be on — that are not increasing pressure or providing more supply. This system can help identify where the peak demands are, where the pressure points are and where excess capacity exists. Once you get that 100,000-foot view, you’re able to identify improvement projects and set priorities based on network dynamics.

We did a pilot project for the Public Utilities Board of Singapore, where the leadership was interested in a pump optimization strategy aimed mainly at energy reduction. They needed to understand the impacts of running pumps and operating valves on certain schedules and frequencies. After they implemented the WaterWiSe solution, they were able to document through an energy audit a 20 percent energy savings.

wso: With this offering, do utilities receive technical help, such as in selecting locations for the sensor arrays?

Finegan: As part of the engagement, we provide utilities with recommendations on optimal sensor locations. Xylem Water Solutions team has a fleet of service personnel who work with utilities globally. We can provide turnkey installation and maintenance. Also, on a routine basis, we can go out to the field and do sensor calibrations. And because the system is smart, if it detects any device malfunctions, we receive messages and can respond and perform the needed maintenance in the field.

wso: How would utility personnel experience system data on a computer screen?

Finegan: Typically we’ll use a GIS API to present data, so users can geospatially reference where the information is coming from. One feature we can provide is water source tracking to show where the water supply is being pulled from. We can overlay that information on a map of the distribution system. The same thing applies when we detect events or anomalies: We can flag each monitor location on a map, then go to one of those positions, click on the flag and see what the anomaly is, or view the real-time data.

wso: Does it take extensive training for utility people to learn this system?

Finegan: The system is really turnkey. They don’t have to install anything on their computers or even work with their IT department, because all the data gets transmitted directly to the cloud data center. Once they set up an account, they have a secure login where they can go and view the information through a web portal. Some of our more advanced customers are interested in directly integrating to the database so they can view the data through their own GIS or SCADA system.


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