Climate change, accelerating urbanisation and water scarcity are some of the many global challenges water utilities are being forced to address in cost-effective ways. At the same time, a technological revolution is under way.
The intersection of water challenges and related technological developments suggests the water sector has taken responsibility for changing the game.
This is certainly the case in the City of Cape Town, which is en route to smart water, defined as the practice of combining intelligent water infrastructure with data analytics to yield actionable information and proactive water management.
The City has evaluated two game-changing applications (apps) from USC Metering, which trades as Utility Systems. These are utiliPro, the in-field management app that allows technicians to manage and configure water management devices in the field, and utiliRead, the mobile app that facilitates walk/drive-by meter reading and the capturing and navigation of meter-reading routes.
In August 2018, both apps will be rolled out to approximately 500 terminals, constituting the first step in moving from automatic meter reading (AMR) to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). This shift will, in future, allow for the remote management, control and reading of all meters under the City’s management.
More specifically, the shift is an evolution from reactive water management (in which data was limited to monthly readings and time-frames for solving problems were protracted) to proactive water management, of which the meter is only a small part.
Darren Oxlee, CTO of Utility Systems, explains: “The richness of these solutions comes from the near real-time data, the ability to analyse and model this data, and the channel for communicating bi-directionally with water meters. Eventually, the City will have insight, using machine learning, deep learning and other techniques, into how water is being used, where it is being lost, and how to manage it in future.”
In practice, the City of Cape Town will be better able to control its water assets and execute strategic water planning, by leveraging a fully configurable smart metering device in a manageable and auditable way.
Specifically, administrators using utiliPro can create a button to set a meter’s daily allocation and ensure responsible use of water. Technicians can perform in-field administration, testing and configuration of devices, conducting valve tests, obtaining profile data, and changing configuration, without approaching the device.
The meter readers’ app, utiliRead, provides an easy tool for reading meters, learning the route on which meters are to be read, recalling the route, and identifying unread meters. It significantly improves the accuracy of meter reading, by removing the error-prone manual process, and reduces time wasted when missed meters must be revisited. Readings are then uploaded and billing accuracy is increased.
End-users will enjoy more accurate billing, better water management during droughts, faster diagnoses of faults, and speedier resolution of issues.
In terms of the bigger picture, adds Oxlee: “Integration into other municipal systems and data points will provide richer data sets for more meaningful decision-making. For example, non-revenue water losses have a material impact on municipalities’ electricity consumption, because the cost of potable water (nearly) always includes power component (pumping, effluent treatment, sewerage works, etc). By better understanding these relationships, municipalities will be better able to manage their assets in a more integrated, sustainable manner and improve strategic planning.