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January 12, 2021

2021 Water Utility Trends: The Future of Smart Water

In a year unlike any other, water utilities faced pivotal changes in 2020 that are transforming the way the industry operates. Our experts are looking ahead in 2021 and evaluating the positive operational shifts taking place for utilities across the country.
In a year unlike any other, water utilities faced pivotal changes in 2020 that are transforming the way the industry operates. Our experts are looking ahead in 2021 and evaluating the positive operational shifts taking place for utilities across the country. The key topics expected to be a focus for water utilities in 2021 include:

  • COVID-19 impacts and the need for additional remote monitoring capabilities
  • Smart water metering systems utilizing cellular technology
  • The evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor proliferation
  • Data synthesis and the ability to drive effective outcomes

Remote Monitoring Due to COVID-19 Impacts

COVID-19 has significantly affected how industries around the world conduct business. For utilities navigating stay-at-home mandates and social-distancing guidelines, COVID-19 has stressed the necessity of remote monitoring capabilities. Utilities need access to their data anytime, anywhere to ensure critical water systems are operating safely and efficiently, as well as to monitor consumption rates and patterns to support customers. Throughout the pandemic, many buildings sat empty during stay-at-home orders, compromising water quality and making remote data exceptionally vital.

Automated monitoring and actionable data analytics, including water usage, consumption, patterns, quality, pressure and temperature, are critical to overseeing a water distribution system. With a smart water system, utilities can monitor system health around the clock and down to individual components to identify potential issues, like leaks and service disruptions. Up-to-the-minute water data enables utility personnel to monitor issues remotely and save the cost of rolling a truck and manually searching for problems in the field. Additionally, utilities can prioritize maintenance to keep safe drinking water flowing to customers, especially if following a stay-at-home order. More than anything, utilities can find reassurance in knowing their customers are protected with the simple glance at a dashboard.

From a customer perspective, smart water systems provide an opportunity for remote self-service. When a consumer engagement portal is in place, customers can monitor their water usage to address high bill concerns and set up leak alerts to identify potential leaks and resolve disputes without having to contact their utility. Consumer tools, like the EyeOnWater® consumer engagement portal, feature a list of frequently asked questions about starting service, closing an account, temporary disconnects and other common topics to inform and empower customers from their desktop, tablet or smartphone. This is especially helpful when customers want their answers quickly—EyeOnWater empowers them to get their answers any time of day. Remote monitoring capabilities are win-win for customers and utilities. They reduce customer frustration by providing access to usage and reduce customer service calls for utilities.

Smart Water Metering

Smart water metering continues to be a prominent solution for utilities—and it’s simpler than ever to achieve because cellular infrastructure is widely available. The process of deploying a smart water system is significantly streamlined for utilities, which paves the way to improve operational efficiencies, customer service operations, infrastructure management, non-revenue water loss and more. Implementing a cellular solution, such as the BEACON® Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA) software suite and ORION® Cellular endpoints, provides utilities with greater flexibility and allows them to significantly improve productivity. Additionally, deploying smart water solutions now makes it easier for utilities to deploy additional sensors for future smart-city initiatives, all with a single cellular infrastructure.

Internet of Things (IoT) and Sensor Proliferation

The Internet of Things connects billions of devices that send and collect data via the internet. Within the water industry, IoT-connected water meters and sensors are equipping utilities with even more critical information, such as water quality, pressure, temperature and flow data, as part of routine system reporting. With this information, utilities can detect changes in pressure to identify and help prevent leaks in their distribution system. Additionally, changes in temperature or flow can help utilities identify malfunctions or other system irregularities.

As we look ahead this year, water data through sensor deployment is expected to become progressively more important and Badger Meter is prepared to keep up with these demands. We recently expanded our smart water offering with the acquisitions of s::can GmbH and Analytical Technology, Inc. (ATi), two leading providers of online water quality monitoring solutions. These solutions add real-time water quality parameters to our capabilities and enhance the scope of actionable data for municipal and industrial customers.

Through digital sensor technology, online and inline water quality monitoring can detect the physical, organic and inorganic properties of water, such as pH, chlorine and turbidity. Additionally, sensors are used to detect toxic gasses used in water treatment and other applications. With online, real-time collection, monitoring and reporting of water quality, utilities have greater insights into their water systems to increase the security of the water networks, optimize operations and support overall easier operation.

The acquisitions of s::can and ATi are part of our strategic plan to seamlessly integrate advanced technologies into our instrumentation offerings to enhance the scope of valuable data for our utility customers.

Emphasizing the Importance of Data

Obtaining and using data to improve operations is a necessity for water utilities. Smart water systems are designed to provide invaluable data with unmatched precision to drive anywhere intelligence. Accurate data—such as flow rate, temperature, pressure and quality metrics—can equip utilities with the information needed to drive strategic outcomes. Smart water systems monitor water networks 24/7 with timestamps and provide up-to-the-minute data, enabling utilities to identify areas of water loss, leaks or other inefficiencies.

Additionally, data can aid utilities in infrastructure monitoring and asset capital planning. If meter reading data presents inconsistencies, such as unpredictable usage spikes or drops, this can be an indication that system components are failing and need repair or replacement. Utility team members can then isolate and fix the problem to restore service faster than they would if they had to manually search for the problem in the field or wait for it to catastrophically surface. In the long run, this can help utilities prioritize maintenance and rehabilitation of their aging water system to maintain a safe supply of drinking water.

Another major data-driven outcome utilities can actualize is improving operational efficiencies, such as reducing operating costs, optimizing operations, extending the life of smart metering components and preventing outages by accurately predicting when to replace aging equipment. Data can also indicate areas of potential leaks and water waste to help reduce non-revenue water within the distribution system and support long-term strategies to address declining water supplies.

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