The Digitization of Water: What You Need to Know

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Our planet is roughly 71% water so it only makes sense the water industry is equally vast and critical to human life. The water industry is valued at $700 billion and the companies involved are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and improve efficiency. Historically, the water industry has been conservative, slow to change, and strongly risk-averse, but as new technology like the PI system for detecting water leaks becomes available, the industry is slowly starting to change. The water industry is recognizing that modern problems require modern solutions and outdated methods for handling crises won’t work optimally with an ever-progressing world. The industry is going digital to adapt to new challenges and modernize to take advantage of new technologies.

Current Challenges Facing the Water Industry

Sustainability used to be the most pressing issue in the industry, but the focus has shifted in recent years. While the water industry is trying to operate in a more environmentally-friendly way, the industry’s current worry is resilience. Water firms are concerned with adapting to and being resilient enough to withstand climate change, rising energy costs, and asset management. The world surrounding the water industry is growing increasingly complex, making the industry-standard methods no longer optimal or efficient.  

Cost is one of the major factors driving the water industry towards technological change. Many utilities are in the public sector meaning funds are limited and firms are expected to prioritize cutting costs, maintaining their systems, and ensuring water is delivered to meet demands. Many of a water firm’s worries center around asset management since water companies use a network of pumps, pipes, and motors that are constantly working. Maintaining assets means ensuring the network is running efficiently for as long as possible while keeping the water quality safe for consumers. Water firms face harsh penalties for pushing out untreated water, even in the case of storm drains overflowing, with some fines reaching as high as $10 per gallon. 

Costs are not entirely under a firm’s control either. Firms rely on vendor work to keep the system running and generally, the cheapest vendor bid wins even if that bid can’t provide needed changes. This problem creates a roadblock for firms wanting to adopt new practices and technology, but can’t afford higher bids. When this roadblock is combined with the already change-resistant nature of the industry, it is easy to see why it has taken so long for water to go digital. 

Modern Technological Solutions

As the problems facing the water industry become more complex, firms are slowly turning to tools other utilities have found success with. Other utility industries are looking into the potential of Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and other digital technologies to solve problems in new ways. Even if new technologies aren’t rapidly adopted, there is an incredible amount of data related to the water industry’s daily operations that demand proper management and utilization. The sheer amount of data in the water industry is forcing firms to use digital technologies to properly understand, manage, and utilize their data. Cloud data storage and basic analytics greatly benefit water firms, but there are more advancements the industry can take advantage of. 

Companies like Olea Edge Analytics are creating new technologies aimed to optimize the way water is delivered, billed, and conserved. Olea has created a new meter analytics solution that continuously monitors the relationship between actual water flow, recorded water flow, registration, and meter specifications using algorithms. The algorithms can detect inaccuracies, identify the cause, and then estimate repair costs to fix the cause of inaccuracies. This technology helps keep water billing accurate so the customer is not over-charged and the water firm is not under-paid all while the meter is constantly checked for needed repairs.

The PI System of using digital data to detect leaks is a proven success with Tennessee’s White House Utility District finding a 147 million gallon a year leak only 3.5 days after the system was implemented. Leak detection not only uncovered wasted water but also found a local landmark had been greatly misnamed. The Flat Rock Spring in Tennessee’s White House Utility District was thought to be a natural spring, but it was a leaky pipe the whole time that had spilled between 250 and 500 million gallons of water over 30 years. Not only were leaks found thanks to the PI System, but over $1 million was saved. 

Other water firms have built upon the PI System to create an “intelligence hub” that manages data and reveals insights. The hub can determine the causes of problems and intercept events before the situation worsens, which allows the firm to keep its customers happy and save money from potential fines or repair costs. 

Fixing leaks might seem like a no-brainer, but fixing water leaks is more important than most people realize. The city of Manila used data and sensors to triangulate underground leaks and over the next few years, half of all leaks were fixed. The percentage of people receiving adequate service throughout the day went from 50% to over 90% because the leaks were fixed. 

It is time digital advancements were brought to and embraced by the water industry. If the industry can leave behind the past and accept the proven benefits of going digital, firms will save money, less water will be wasted, and more people around the world will have reliable access to clean water.

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