Smart Water Network Innovations: Getting Ahead of the Curve – Part 2
Last post, we explored the actual history of water system management, and some of the functions of an ideal smart water network. This post, we take a look at researching the best options for your agency’s water management system, and taking into account the benefits demanded by modern water consumers.
Ideally, a smart water network of the future would provide affordable, easily deployed hardware that harnesses the power and immediacy of third-party, cutting-edge telecommunications. This would enable access to infrastructure and wireless capabilities that may already be part of the grid, or are slated for future installation.
Due Diligence Critical to Sound Decisions
Due diligence concerning available options is critical to making a sound investment in an agency’s future. Without it, an agency intent on positioning itself well for future growth could instead find itself trapped in a system of proprietary technologies that only perform well together, but not in concert with others outside their ecosystem.
The ideal smart water network would not only perform remote meter reading, but also allow utilities and their customers access to real-time data on water usage, potential leaks, and other actionable information. A bonus would be the ability of the customer to remotely close a valve, shutting down suspected leaks until they can be assessed or—in the case of a major break—mitigating loss until permanent repairs can be made. In addition, it would provide the handling of other IoT applications over the same network, to extend levels and capabilities of system management.
All these robust features would provide cost savings to providers by eliminating the need for multiple data handling systems, drive-by or touch meter reading, most search-and-assess field trips, and a host of other functions now handled by direct and costly labor deployment. Ultimately, such a network would create an important and necessary partnership between providers and customers in meeting tomorrow’s ever-growing demand for water conservation.
Today’s Customers Demand More
With more computing power in their pockets than the first Apollo moon landing’s guidance system had, modern Americans have come to expect immediate, two-way communication with product and service providers.
American consumers are not shy about using social media and the Internet to express unhappiness with dashed expectations, or to get help with needed information. They are also beginning to understand that cyber-communication technology can also help them proactively connect with commodity service providers, previously difficult or impossible to reach.
Millennials and every generation to follow will soon be demanding more information about—and control over—their potable water usage.
The Internet of Things (IoT) now powers everything from mobile banking to telecommuting. The Covid-19 outbreak has forced all generations to become conversant with cyber-technologies if they want to stay in touch. These newly tech-savvy citizens will soon start wondering aloud why they must still put up with being ambushed by unexpected bills for massive usage spikes spurred by leaks that were completely unknown to them and/or out of their control.
They will be expecting utilities to implement their on-demand access to data that can help them anticipate and even control their usage, and to provide early warning of leaks before they become costly and damaging. Despite increasing talk about conservation, end user generally remain ill-equipped to participate in the process.
A Smart Cities Glossary
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) – Systems that measure, collect, and analyze water usage, and communicate with metering devices on request or on a schedule. These systems include hardware, software, communications, consumer energy displays and controllers, customer associated systems, meter data management software, and supplier business systems.
Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) – Existing older technology for automatically collecting consumption, diagnostic, and status data from water or energy metering devices (gas, electric), and transferring that data to a central database for billing, troubleshooting, and analyzing.
Edge Network – A system of computing devices distributed on a network, at the “edge of the Internet,” but not engaging it. These components bring computation and data storage closer to the physical location where it’s needed, to improve response time and save bandwidth. In this case, onsite digital water meter monitors with onboard computer chips, and the ability to speak or “nearcast” to nearby consumer devices such as smart phones, tablets, and smart water use appliances.
Internet of Things (IoT) – A system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, provided with unique identifiers (UIDs). These devices have the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
LoRa® – A non-cellular, long-range, low-power, low-bitrate, wireless telecommunications system, which works in the physical layer as an infrastructure solution for the Internet of Things. End-devices use LoRa across a single wireless hop, to communicate to gateway(s) connected to the Internet. They act as transparent “bridges,” relaying messages between end-devices and a central network server, operating in the unlicensed spectrum.
LoRaWan – An open source data-sharing protocol that defines the system architecture for the network, ensuring reliable and secure communication.
Low-Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) – One range of protocols and technologies that has emerged to fulfill the communication requirements of the IoT, offering radio coverage over a very large area through base stations, adapting transmission rates and power, modulation, duty cycles, etc., so that connected end-devices incur very low energy consumption.
Now that you have a context and vocabulary for thinking about smart water networks, next time, we’ll take a look at the in-house benefits of adopting a smart water management system.