Smart Approach: Critical role of digitalisation in water management

Critical role of digitalisation in water management

Over the past few years, the water industry has witnessed a significant penetration of technology solutions in network management. It has witnessed the increased de­p­loyment of solutions such as smart metering, mobile applications, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), digital twins and re­mo­te monitoring. There has been an increased emphasis on building the smart water supply infrastructure with centralised and automated operations and control. This is a part of efforts to improve the quality of water supply and reduce non-revenue water (NRW), thereby reducing overall losses. Following the outbreak of the pa­n­­demic, the provision of water services improv­ed due to a greater focus on public health.

At a recent webinar on Digitalisation in Water Infrastructure Management, organised by India Infrastructure Research and supported by Be­ntley Systems, industry experts shared insightful views on the progress made by utilities, the ex­perience and challenges in technology adoption, and the new and emerging digital requirements of the water industry…

Key takeaways

At present, water utilities face a number of problems. These include an average 25-40 per cent loss of drinking water in distribution; predicted costs to keep the water infrastructure assets running exceeding $65 billion per year; energy usage and costs accounting for up to 30 per cent of the utility’s operational budgets; varying quality of water supply; discharge of more than 2 million cubic metres of water as sewage and in­dustrial wastewater. Utilities rely on trusted water infrastructure data to make decisions to meet se­rvice-level benchmarks. Howbeit, any discrepancy in the quality of the data available can be a costly affair for the utilities.

One of the challenges faced by Veolia India pertains to meter readers and meter reading. A simple technique that Veolia introduced to tackle this challenge was photo meter reading. Another issue faced is with respect to the billing system. Even today, there is no off-the-shelf available so­lution for billing and collection for a water utility. Therefore, Veolia has introduced a number of IT systems for the maintenance of water assets. Another area of concern is the staggered development of water infrastructure. At present, most of the utilities are coming up with least cost ba­sis development tenders for consultants. This area, in particular, needs the ministry’s intervention in order to ensure quality.

In the water sector, most of the administrators and engineers are used to working in an environment with no data available. Thus, they often have to make a lot of decisions on gut feeling. Digitalisation, at the core, addresses the issue of non-availability of data and allows utilities to make decisions on a real-time basis, aligned to specific goals.

Digitalisation, in true essence, is a smart app­roach to water management, in terms of adoption of smart gadgets, tools and hardware. It provides accurate data in order to take optimal decisions, both short-term operational decisions that need to be taken on a day-to-basis and long-term strategic decisions that need to be taken in terms of new investments and infrastructure development.

Areas that have received increased attention from water utilities include energy efficiency and control, life extension of assets, and disaster res­po­n­­se and management. Another area where digitalisation offers great value is complete handling and billing, and hence ensuring better ma­na­gement of the complete customer interface. Va­rious advanced stimulation tools are also being deployed in the areas of strategic planning and decision-making.

The large volume of data generated is yet another challenge faced by water utilities. Hence, using the huge volume of data to make any decision becomes a herculean task for water utilities. In this regard, using artificial intelligence (AI) and big data can prove to be effective in optimally handling the data available and taking in­formed decisions.

The key areas that the utilities need to take into consideration are prevention of network failures, safety of personnel, development of infrastructure resilience plans, compliance with regulatory requ­ir­ements and industry standards, achievement of sustainability targets, operation of the SCADA sys­tem within the predefined budgets, reduction of costs involved, data-driven decision-making, optimisation of asset performance, and reduction of system downtime of systems, among others.

The Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation 2.0 (AMRUT 2.0) guidelines is­su­ed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs encompass elements like augmentation of the existing water distribution system; provision of 24×7 water supply; deployment of smart solutions like SCADA; provision/augmentation and rehabilitation of sewerage systems with end-to-end treatment and reuse; and tapping used water for recycling. In addition to this, outcome-based fun­ding is one of the key features of AMRUT 2.0. In view of outcome-based funding, there is a need to focus on citizen-centric delivery outcomes and their impact. Some of the key outcomes are im­proving operational overheads, customer satisfaction and asset reliability/resilience.

Further, for the progress of technologies in the water and wastewater industry, it is imperative to have a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). In order to achieve the set KPIs, there is a need for a digital workflow, providing well-informed insights to the industry. The various technologies that can be embedded into the system to achieve the predefined KPIs include enterprise re­source planning, enterprise asset manageme­nt, geographic information system (GIS), industrial internet of things, and hydraulic/machine learning modelling. In addition to deploying the­se technologies, monitoring their performance is vital. According to industry experts, one of the foremost steps in developing the smart water infrastructure should be GIS-based hydraulic modelling with real-time data to make it a real-time data management system.

Some of the easy-to-use decision-support tools for water distribution and sewer networks offered by Bentley Systems are WaterGEMS, HAMMER, WaterSight, SewerGEMS, SewerSight, Flood Early Warning System and OPenFlows. These products are a de facto standard. They are used by most of the design consultants and project management consultants. A number of govern­me­nt agencies, water supply and sewerage bo­ards, and public utilities are using these technologies for analysing, modelling and designing their water and sewer distribution networks.

Bentley has also introduced a plug-and-play cloud-based technology – WaterSight – to provide access to cloud-based insights from various enterprise sources. It provides a utility-wide view into the critical system and individual asset performance, enabling efficient operations and maintenance planning decisions. It combines SCADA, GIS, hydraulic modeling and customer information into a single, interoperable dashbo­ard. Operators are no longer limited by the number and accuracy of sensors. They can readily monitor the flow, pressure and water quality conditions at every point in the system using Water­Sight. With OpenFlowsWaterSight, NRW is ass­essed and reduced using live water audit calculations. Its key capabilities include management of emergency response, detection of system ano­malies, pressure control, management of energy use, tracking of water movement, and improvement in engineering and operationa efficiency.

In sum

Going forward, it is essential to undertake GIS map­ping of existing water infrastructure and commercial mapping of water assets, increase consumer awareness, and ensure strict regulatory compliance. Furthermore, the implementation of comprehensive operations and maintenance guidelines is important. Ensuring data safety is yet another vital area that needs due attention.

In view of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing the adoption of digital payments is essential for utilities, especially in Tier 2 cities. It is also important for every utility to practice hy­dra­u­lic modelling to ensure proper maintenance. Lastly, a phase-wise approach is the key to ensuring the effective implementation of digital solutions. In sum, effective data management is the key to better water management going forward. n

Based on a panel discussion at the Digitalisation in Water Infrastructure Management webinar with Snehal Kumar Bokare, Director, Bentley Systems India; SVK Babu, Deputy CEO, Veolia India; Manoj Nainani, Executive Director, Infrastructure, Egis India; and H. Subramaniam, Executive Director, Fichtner Consultants Private Limited