Digital Water: Trends in Water Metering

digital water

Over the past year a new term has emerged in the water industry: digital water, which includes everything from measuring water flow “in the wild” to wastewater management and, of course, metering water usage. The world has learned very quickly that online data gives real time solutions to all aspects of water management. Water innovator Will Sarni said in his 2019 report for the International Water Association, IWA, that “digital water is not seen as an option, but as an imperative.” [1]

The Underlying Technologies

Digital water is yet another manifestation of the digital transformation that is revolutionizing every aspect of our lives. The transformation starts with digitation, i.e., methods and technologies that convert analog field instrumentation and analog data into digital formats. Now the digitized data can be put to work to provide smart water solutions for cities, buildings and domestic homes. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the backbone across which water data flows both ways between the edge and control centers. [3]

Digital Water is Here

Water Industry 4.0: U.S. and Canada Digital Water Market Forecast, a new study by independent advisory firm Bluefield Research for the International Water Association, projects that between now and 2030 $92.6 billion will be invested in digital water, including hardware, software and technical support.

In reviewing the study, Eric Bindler, Research Director of IWA’s Digital Water program, says “By leveraging smart technologies, shifts in communication platforms like 5G, automation, and predictive analytics, cities and utilities should be better prepared to address costly water and wastewater infrastructure issues.” [2]

Below are the five key technologies expected to dominate the digital water investment arena. Bindler says that meters are expected to be the leading segment because they are the interface between the utility companies and the customers, providing critical data on the network infrastructure and customer habits.

Five Obstacles Preventing a Water Utility from Going Digital

It is generally acknowledged that smart water solutions can help mitigate the problems incurred by climate change and aging technology, while saving customers on average 11.6% annually on their water bill. In addition, digital water has helped utility companies lower their operating costs and save a tremendous amount of clean water.

Despite all these benefits, however there are still major barriers preventing many potential utilities from going digital. Global Water Intelligence has just published a white paper that cites the following obstacles to building a digital utility:

  • In environments with digital experience digital water flourishes. On the other hand, societies that lack digital experience in general, the transformation is very slow. Even when they do update their metering system, often the lack of experience and fear of change prevents them from utilizing the system to its fullest capabilities.
  • There is often a mismatch between what the customers want and what the vendors are selling. After much deliberation, a new customer to the digital water world will come with a list of requirements that they think are necessary for their system. However, for the vendor customizing a device is expensive and often impractical. Often if the two sides sit down and really listen to each other a solution can be found for everyone’s benefit.
  • It can be difficult to quantify the benefits of smart meters in order to justify the capital investment. For example, if a leak is discovered due to an alert about a sudden increase in water usage, there is no way of calculating how much water would have been wasted or how much damage might have occurred if the smart metering system was not in place.
  • The procurement process is another barrier to digitalizing the water system. Utilities do business by tender, but it is difficult for them to make apples-to-apples price comparisons across the different systems. In addition, compatibility of the new system with the customer’s present system is a major issue and should be more of a factor to the decision-makers than the price point. Unfortunately, the decision makers often look solely at the price, causing potential problems (and additional costs) during implementation. [4]
The Final Note

Digital water is no longer the wave of the future – it is here now and it is here to stay. At Arad we have seen over and over again that the challenges and obstacles to digitalizing a water utility can be overcome when the stakeholders work together.

We are proud to be a part of the future, today.

References

[1] Will Sarni, Digital Water, June 19, 2019
[2] Smart Water Magazine, Demand for data drives US $92 billion investment in digital water by 2030, January 8, 2020
[3] Craig Resnick, Key technology trends for 2020, February 6, 2020
[4] Aquatech, Five Barriers Preventing A Digital Water Utility, December 6, 2019

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