APAC Experience: Water utilities in the region take measures to upgrade their systems

Water utilities in the region take measures to upgrade their systems

The water sector has experienced significant momentum in network management practices over the past few years. Most countries in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region have taken key steps to enhance their treatment capacity, reduce water losses, improve revenue collection, deploy advanced technologies and rehabilitate old pipelines. Water utilities in the region are at a critical juncture and need to upgrade their existing infrastructure to improve service delivery and protect water resources.  To strengthen regional water security and ensure self-sufficiency, policymakers and regulators are taking several short-term and long-term measures in this space.

Many water utilities have launched projects for the deployment of advanced flow and pressure management systems, leak detection devices and asset management systems. Supervisory control and data acquisition systems, geographic information systems, satellite surveillance and remote sensors, etc. are also being deployed across the APAC region for monitoring consumption levels, as well as distribution and treatment systems.

There is also an increased emphasis on building a smart water supply infrastructure for uninterrupted water supply, centralised operation and control, and recycling and reuse of wastewater. Smart water meter deployment has emerged as an effective means of cutting down non-revenue water. Countries such as Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, India and Sri Lanka have engaged private entities for water supply management. This has resulted in some noteworthy improvements in operational performance, such as reduction in water losses, expansion of the customer base, and improvement in billing and revenue collection mechanisms.

Further, operations and management practices are becoming an important aspect of managing water resources in the APAC region as clean and reliable water is fast becoming an essential and scarce resource in the 21st century. In order to ensure adequate supply of clean water, there is a need for a full regulatory regime that promotes forecasts, and fair and transparent pricing of water. Some of the best practices to promote better operations are reduction of NRW, adoption of smart solutions and efficient collation of data.

Key initiatives

In the Philippines, Manila Water took various initiatives to ensure the operational efficiency of its water supply network. The local body serves the east zone of Metro Manila, covering 23 cities and municipalities, and provides 24×7 water supply to approximately 7 million people. Prior to the privatisation of water in Metro Manila, the region suffered from low or no water pressure, poor customer service, massive leaks, and tampering and pilferage of water facilities. In order to ensure 100 per cent water supply to all customers, Manila Water reduced water losses to a minimum. It brought NRW down to 13 per cent in 2020 from 63 per cent in 1997. It also worked on the expansion of water mains and distribution lines.

The key challenges faced by Manila Water in the reduction of NRW were lack of employee readiness, organisational constraints, high network losses and lack of customer support. The biggest challenge encountered by the organisation was the limited flexibility and reliability of network operations because 90 per cent of the east zone’s water supply comes from a single source. In a bid to combat such challenges, the organisation encouraged employees to take decisions and provide ground-level business solutions, improved accountability through territory ownership, and deployed proactive technical solutions such as network modelling, meter maintenance, pipe rehabilitation and replacement, leakage detection, and pressure management.

In Singapore, a smart water grid system has been deployed that supports the Public Utilities Board’s mission to supply water to its customers 24×7. The system has advanced sensing technologies that facilitate the collation of data regarding pipeline condition and can be used to develop a risk-based model for pipe replacement projects. This enables the utilities to better plan and schedule the replacement and rehabilitation programme and replace the right pipes at the right time. The system also enables the detection of leaks in order to minimise water losses. Further, stress on water pipes can be detected early through this system and actions can be taken to mitigate the risk of pipe bursts.

In order to address the water utilities’ growing demand for IoT solutions, telecommunication companies in the APAC region are building their capabilities by partnering with IoT platform vendors that have expertise in the water sector. As the technology hardware and software ecosystem is maturing, water utilities are investing in IoT platforms based on a cost-benefit ratio with capital investments that do not put a significant strain on their financial resources.

Technological upgradation

Water utilities in the region are now working towards technological upgradation in water supply operations to facilitate efficient water network management. Utilities are deploying control valves in the pipeline network. The control valves help in controlling pressure in a network to mitigate transients, which can cause pipe bursts and lead to premature ageing of the pipeline. Controlling pressure fluctuations helps in keeping networks calm at serviceable pressure levels. It also helps in reducing leakages.

The types of valve technologies being used to control pressure include fixed outlet pressure reducing; two-stage low voltage based on time; two-stage hydraulic flow based, non-communicating; flow modulation or time based, low voltage with communication; and flow modulation, intermediate power with communication and supervisory control and data acquisition compatibility. There is also a growing need to establish stable water supply networks as fluctuations in water pressure adversely affect the strength of pipes and lead to their premature ageing. Installing pressure relief valves is the most common method of controlling water pressure in a particular area. As per the trends witnessed in water pressure, the pressure is highest during the night when consumption is negligible, whereas the pressure reduces during the peak hours of consumption. Hence, water utilities in the region are making significant investments to regulate water pressure, and meet the demand and supply requirements. Further, utilities are working towards a long-term holistic vision of an integrated water resource management system that acts as a central system of record and a control system for all of their assets. Water utilities will also need to partner with technology service providers and system integrators to carefully evaluate innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, which help process data from multiple sources into actionable operational insights on a real-time basis.

The road ahead

Going forward, as most governments across the APAC region strive to improve their infrastructural facilities to meet the increasing demand for water, better technologies and processes are likely to be developed. The adoption of new technologies and best practices will lead to rapid capacity addition and efficiency improvement. Moreover, a pragmatic approach to rationalising user charges is necessary. Greater private sector participation in asset operations and maintenance is also needed, along with a greater emphasis on recycling wastewater.