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How the IIoT is helping solve global water and wastewater challenges

Sustainability Matters

June 30, 2020

Rapid urbanisation and aging infrastructures are creating global water challenges, but contemporary technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) offer a solution.

Water is a precious natural resource becoming more scarce with rapid urbanisation. According to the World Economic Forum, water scarcity is one of the most significant challenges of our time. And as the global population continues to grow and the effects of climate change deepen, the problem will become more pressing.

Americans had their first glimpse of contemporary water challenges in Flint, Michigan, where water availability, quality, and bureaucratic decisions impacted an entire community’s health. It’s nearly six years later, and Flint is still trying to fix its water infrastructure.

“Rapid urbanisation has brought to acute focus a need for the intelligent management of freshwater, wastewater, and stormwater to assure the safety of drinking water; for wastewater management and stormwater monitoring to keep urban-dwelling secure; and to avoid water scarcity, public health risks and flooding in urban areas.” — World Economic Forum

There are flaws in the global management of water and wastewater infrastructures that result in environmental damage, safety concerns and millions of lost gallons each year. Expensive, labor-intensive processes like meter reading and a lack of visibility into water collection, distribution and consumption patterns result in reactive services contributing to the problem.

Today, most of the water industry is dependent on SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems to monitor redistribution and water processing. SCADA works, but with limitations. The systems are costly and inherently complex and need analysts, skilled operators and programmers for installation and maintenance.

Still, as water industry leaders search for intelligent ways to drive innovation and efficiency, we’ve witnessed the increased adoption of IIoT solutions for water and wastewater management.

Connected devices and machines are transforming utility operations, allowing them to make better decisions informed by near-real-time data. The water industry can take advantage of IIoT and edge computing platforms to monitor everything from leak detection and water levels to water quality and safety. That’s the shortlist.

“It is estimated that the amount of energy wasted as the result of traditional methods of water processing and delivery can be reduced by up to 25% through more dynamic analytics, and real-time system monitoring. With the volatility of energy prices, need to improve sustainability, continuous changes in legislation and increased instances of funding available for energy efficiency initiatives, there are greater opportunities to effectively manage freshwater supply and safely process wastewater.” — IIoT World

Water treatment facilities can install smart sensors that collect data on temperature variations, pressure changes, water quality and chemical leaks, and send that information back to web applications to make it actionable.

Edge technologies can also be used to rapidly upgrade existing SCADA systems with IIoT capabilities at a fraction of the cost of replacing PLCs or RTUs already in the field. Edge processing frees up as much as 80% of existing bandwidth, allowing water treatment plants to get more data from their existing devices immediately, and with lower latency than traditional poll-response topologies.

Wireless networking solutions like FreeWave’s connect diverse water utility assets from pump stations to basins to water tanks, and more, and in highly ruggedised and remote environments. FreeWave’s IQ offerings, for example, add edge computing for data processing at the source of data collection — where the assets physically live.

For most water facilities, the IIoT is the ideal solution, providing deeper operational insights that improve uptime, enable site automation, and power real-time performance management. Also, connecting physical objects to a central internet-based hub means that fewer people are needed to manage a more significant number of objects and processes effectively. Water treatment facilities can use the IIoT and edge intelligence to gather more data and a more substantial amount of valuable insights, with fewer people and fewer errors.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/chombosan

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Water Quality & Water Pollution