Supplying communities with clean and safe drinking water has been one of the very cornerstones of modern engineering since its inception in the 1800s. It is a task engineers have become so proficient at, that western society at large hardly stops thinking about it. Yet, the water suppliers of tomorrow are facing huge challenges in the growing rate of urbanization, global warming and decades of investment debt. While the willingness to pay for water is low, suppliers with ageing infrastructure are fighting one of their hardest battles yet.
Challenges in Water Supply
Clean water supply system has three key components (apart from the sourcing): the treatment plant, the supply network and the end-consumer. The plant is often a modern and well-maintained facility with the ability to control each treatment process and chemical addition in detail. In comparison, the network is a relative unknown. A large issue with understanding and measuring the water network is the deceptively simple fact that it is underground.
An average water supplier has about 80% of its asset value in the underground network, yet there is a surprising lack of understanding about how this system is behaving. For example, in which direction the water will be flowing through circular networks, or what the pressure or quality may be at a specific location and time of the day.
In fact, engineers often have to rely on old paper drawings to make estimates. In parts of London, some pipes are over 150 years old. In parallel, in the digital age, consumers increasingly gain access to more information and therefore become more aware of energy wastage. Today, utilities with over 20 % water leakage feels socially unacceptable.
Digitization of Water Network Modelling
The ongoing revolution in data collection and analysis is providing a new way out, and WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff is providing its clients with digital solutions in the form of smart models.
Water network modelling itself is nothing new and has been implemented to provide solutions for well over two decades at this point. However, older models often have the issue of being cumbersome and requiring many man-hours of fine-tuning to set up and calibrate.
By combining a detailed model based on the best available information with an extensive network of connected sensors measuring flow, pressure and quality, we are able to bring efficiency to the next level.
A smart model is a flexible tool that can be used in every step of the process from planning and designing all the way to maintenance. Registering asset information and history into the model allows us to identify pipes at high risk and pipes where the consequences of failure are great. This allows us to monitor and direct our client’s renewal efforts.
Being Energy Efficient
Another issue facing our clients is the energy efficiency of water production. Treating and pumping water accounts for nearly 10% of global energy production and 2.5% of CO2 today.
As cities become denser, they have to resort to energy-intensive processes like desalination to be able to provide a reliable supply. Here are steps that would help reduce this high consumption:
- Collecting Water network information:
In the future, collecting all information about the pipe network in a model and using hindcasting as a means of calibration will allow us to accurately predict future water use based on key factors like temperature, season and weather.
- Optimize energy usage:
By cooperating with energy suppliers whose energy mix contains an increasingly large component of variable energy from wind and solar power, we can optimize energy usage. This is done by pumping when electricity is cheap, reducing peak consumption while increasing the proportion of renewable energy used.
Constructing the models delivers strategic insight for our clients’ future work and proactively suggests new avenues of exploration.
- Relying on big data:
By turning big data into smart data we are not just keeping pace, we are learning how to stay one step ahead in delivering water.