Brown and Caldwell’s Kevin Stively and Michael Karl discuss their new product BC Blue and the smart water trend
BC Blue is a smart utility approach to efficiently manage and operate water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities from Brown and Caldwell. The approach uses artificial intelligence to pull large amounts of data across systems and into one location.
WWD Associate Editor Sara Myers spoke with Kevin Stively, a smart utility services leader at Brown and Caldwell, and Michael Karl, a smart utility technology leader at Brown and Caldwell, about their new product and the smart water trend that has emerged in the last couple years.
Sara Myers: What made you want to launch a product like BC Blue?
Kevin Stively: Our water and wastewater utility clients are faced with a number of increasing challenges to meet their obligations to their community. Some of these challenges include aging infrastructure, rising labor and energy costs, new regulations and the turnover of operators. There's a lot of institutional knowledge there.
The technology advancement is pretty rapid, specifically in the realm of digital technology. We'll present those opportunities with the number of tools that we can use to help our clients to overcome these challenges that we have. But the problem that we see in the industry is that there's just too many technologies. There's a lot of vendors out there, there's a lot of different approaches to choose from. [It is hard to] to implement or pull them together and how to make this all work together reliably.
BC Blue was created to simply help our clients leverage that emerging digital technology space to better serve their communities. With our BC Blue solution, we craft and implement that unique approach to becoming a smart utility.
BC Blue is more an approach rather than product. It's how we tie our ecosystem of knowledge and technologies together. It's founded in our deep roots in knowledge of water and wastewater utilities. Ultimately, a smart utility is not a one size fits all solution. It really depends on the need of each utility and each utility has different challenges. Some of them are common and some are very unique to them. And so, we shape an approach to help our clients with those efficiency and optimization goals that they might have.
Michael Karl: One of our clients specific challenges related to the ones coming in was– SUEZ North America requested our help with one of their objectives– to reduce the time it took to train new operators. They were faced with an average training period from anywhere from three to five years. With BC Blue, we're able to bring that down to less than 12 months, and this is really done because it focuses on implementing the technology with an approach that incorporates change with –management using situational awareness techniques, and [it] helps bring context from a multiple applications that a utility uses a-cross departments, which allows it to be feasible through any one individual in any department.
Myers: How would you define smart water and what it means to your company?
Stively: That's a good question because smart water can mean a lot of different things. Simply put, it is the ability to see how water is consumed and how it is used by that user. Smart water can help end users in their own conservation efforts by seeing the data relative to their consumption just by a few mouse clicks on a web browser. So by having that functionality enabled, you've empowered the end user to understand what they're doing and what they're using. Otherwise you just use water and you have no idea until the bill comes how much you've used in that period.
Karl: We believe smart water is about really connecting technology to its purpose for a utility to address three core elements. It requires three core elements rather: leveraging the people that a utility has, as well as leveraging technology to help protect the environment.
An example of this is Jordan Valley. Jordan Valley has a primary objective of reducing total water consumption. Jordan Valley is in the Salt Lake City region, so it is quite a dry and arid climate so water is a scarce resource. They're trying to reduce consumption– not just water loss, but total consumption– by 25% by 2025. And using a approach like BC Blue helps provide a holistic view. It is allowing Jordan Valley to see who's using a water greater than average, who has conserved as much and really move this objective further.
Myers: What does smart water mean for utilities?
Stively: Smart water in the context of drinking water and wastewater is also known in the industry as One Water. One Water is looking at all of the water, whether it's gray water, reusable wastewater, fresh drinking water and how we manage it holistically in a sustainable manner. Technology has a very large part in the One Water cycle. You'll hear a lot of buzzwords in the industry: Internet of Things, big data, smart water, smart utility, smart city, etc. It's going to ultimately need for utilities to become smart.
Karl: Much of the value and why utilities are finding it worthwhile to implement smart water or smart utility is because the water industry is dealing with a combination of data overload and constrained resources. This is leading to utilities collecting a lot of data that they aren't equipped to analyze, much less take action. We have found results and data showing that utilities are actually only revealing and acting on less than 10% of the data they collect with these new technologies like inner Internet of Things. Sensors are now expected to double over the next couple of years. This is only going to be more of a significant challenge. But fortunately, advancements and technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning are making it possible to review these larger data sets and train those models to work in collaboration with utility management staff.
Myers: Do you think the smart water trend will last? Does it have staying power in the industry?
Stively: Absolutely, we think it’s here to stay. We believe that there’s four main drivers that are causing clients to pull this approach rather than us pushing it on clients. It’s really constrained funding, workforce change, and challenges bringing on a new generation of workers. [There is an] increased demand for transparency and how utilities are meeting water quality requirements, and we see that particular element becoming more and more important as a one water strategy [to] focus on maximizing water use and reuse technologies. A number of years ago, telemetry and SCADA changed the way utilities operate and maintain their infrastructure, but today it's commonplace with nearly all utilities leveraging that technology.