Cities and water utility districts are investing in cloud computing solutions and smart meters to remotely measure water consumption and detect leaks at homes and businesses. They also are installing smart sensors for the real-time monitoring of their water supply systems, and in some cases, their wastewater treatment plants and stormwater operations too.
The technology automates the once-manual task of reading meters, and through data analytics, cities and water utilities can better manage their water supply infrastructure.
They can identify and resolve problems faster, eliminate water theft, perform preventive maintenance, and improve customer service and engagement, resulting in increased water savings and optimized system performance, says Nikola Ristivojevich, senior analyst at IDC’s Government Health and Insights practice.
“It creates water efficiency and system efficiency,” he says.
Smart Meter Analytics and the Cloud
Houston Public Works currently operates a hybrid water metering system that incorporates technology from 1998 and 2010. Today, 70 percent of the city’s homes and businesses use 13-year-old automated metering infrastructure technology, which wirelessly transmits meter readings to the city’s communications network.
The remaining 30 percent are on older automated meter reading technology, which requires staff to drive down streets and wirelessly capture meter readings on notebook computers. Combined, that data is uploaded to internal servers and backed up on Amazon Web Services (AWS), says Thomas, who retired from Houston Public Works recently.
Because metering technology only lasts 15 to 20 years, Houston Public Works has embarked on a five-year quest to install new smart devices in every home and business with new capabilities that measure water pressure and temperature. For the first time, the agency will also install smart sensors throughout its water distribution infrastructure and wastewater and stormwater operations.
Houston recently hired a smart utility vendor for cloud-based software and storage. Migrating to a Software as a Service solution simplifies IT management and improves redundancy and security, Thomas says.
The SaaS tool allows Houston Public Works to centrally monitor the sensors and access dashboards that provide reports on customer water usage, leaks, water pressure readings and other data in nearly real time.
Smart sensors and data analytics will allow the city to more quickly detect and fix problems, such as water main leaks that cause water pressure to drop, Thomas says.
“It helps us know exactly what’s happening with our system,” he says.
Houston Public Works has also partnered with Microsoft Azure to use its cloud-based data analytics tools to gain more insights on sensor data. The agency will create a digital twin, a real-time digital representation of its infrastructure, and run models to find ways to operate more efficiently and build more resiliency into its systems, Thomas says.
The department is working with Azure to create a model that analyzes rainfall, predicts flooding and allows city officials to warn residents. Public Works is installing sensors that measure water flow rates in drainage ditches and water levels at highway underpasses.
“We will be able to predict, based on rainfall and water velocity, how quickly an area downstream will potentially flood,” he says.