Bob Crossen is managing editor for WWD. Crossen can be reached at [email protected]
Walking down the hallways to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas for American Water Works Assn. ACE 18, it was apparent the show’s theme this year was smart water. It seemed that every sign and advertisement on the way to the show floor touted smart technology. But when I started my meetings, the first question I got when I mentioned this was, “What is smart water?” It’s a really good question and one that I hadn’t really thought about until that first meeting on the show floor.
I think when most people think about smart water, their initial thought is smart or automatic meter reading—essentially, meters that send tremendous amount of data through Internet of Things connections to a SCADA system where operators can monitor or adjust things as needed. But in talking to people at AWWA ACE18, it is clear that is just the tip of a really tall iceberg.
Smart water also encompasses the analysis of data, whether from meters or other equipment in a treatment plant, to improve operations, efficiency and, perhaps most importantly, quality treated water. There are many companies that offer services in this space that can analyze the data for you or package the information in such a way as to make decisions easier.
Then you have the companies using machine learning and artificial intelligence to process a tremendous amount of data—generally years of operational numbers at a utility—to predict failures and pipe lifespans. The goal of these programs is helping utilities better spend their maintenance and repair budgets on the critical parts of their system.
And when you can combine those elements with a GIS system, the analysis is nearly limitless, as it opens doors to demographic and geographic data to better understand the users in the system. When paired with the numbers of how those users are using the system, some amazing inferences and conclusions can be made, which could inform plant managers how to better reach, interact with and provide for their customers.
That said, many companies providing these kinds of services—namely the analysis and meter reading aspects—have been doing so for years. In this sense, smart water is not entirely new to the industry—it’s simply evolving with technological improvements and expanding horizons.
If you’d like to learn more about these topics, check out a special episode of our new podcast called Talking Under Water, which WWD has created in coordination with Water Quality Products and Storm Water Solutions. You can listen on SoundCloud at soundcloud.com/talkingunderwater or by subscribing on iTunes.
And please reach out to me about your thoughts on smart water. How would you define it? How can smaller utilities implement these technologies without breaking the bank? Email [email protected] to get in touch.