The value and impact of digital transformation is widely recognized by water utilities in the Asia Pacific as they address escalating climate change, and economic and population growth.
At the core of digital transformation, or digital water, is aggregating, mapping and analyzing data for greater insights and actionable information. One goal of digital water is to provide predictive analytics by optimizing plant performance and identifying process exceptions before they become costly problems.
By facilitating right-sized, data-driven investments, digital transformation offers Asia Pacific utilities the opportunity to find digital strategies that address their different geographical, political and social perimeters, legacy infrastructure systems and technological maturity.
Digital transformation, through real-time information access, allows water utilities to take appropriate actions at the right time in areas such as the distribution system, treatment facilities and overall asset management.
To optimize the distribution system, Asia Pacific utilities are taking the opportunity to assess digital strategies that address network and loss management systems, leak detection, stormwater management, wastewater management and urban flooding prevention. Several utilities are adopting remote sensors to integrate geospatial data with pipe condition analysis to minimize non-revenue water.
With the help of digital transformation, water utilities can promote water treatment efficiency through the optimization of energy and processes.
Predictive maintenance is another pillar of digital transformation. Predictive maintenance combines established technology-driven maintenance methodologies with smarter instrumentation, control and automation technology. Some regional utilities are piloting predictive analytics projects to visualize digital meter data, identify maintenance incidences and provide alerts to minimize asset failure. Using machine learning, pattern recognition and advanced analytics to optimize, manage and deliver interventions gives Asia Pacific water utilities the opportunity to prioritize mission critical investments through identifying equipment and processes that could result in the highest cost of failure.
For countries facing high labor costs, digital transformation can offer the opportunity to ease manpower cost by facilitating remote monitoring of maintenance systems and performance optimization.
Embrace Regional Differences
On one hand, compliance and managing the cost of water services for customers drive digital transformation investments. On the other hand, budget constraints, energy consumption, aging infrastructure and asset management affect water utilities’ ability to invest.
Many regional utilities have taken steps to identify the components of a digital water program. Others are plotting out holistic solutions to address water resilience and sustainability.
Developed markets, like Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, are assessing how digital transformation can extend the life of their assets and achieve predictable performance.
For developing countries, like the Philippines and Indonesia, the opportunity lies in deploying advanced analytics to provide enhanced intelligence for more effective network management.
Invariably, the path to digital transformation success starts with a mindset and the leadership that value connectivity, innovation and automation, and is realized by a workforce that understands shared, real-time common data is the way forward and feels empowered to develop themselves further to participate in the digital disruption.
In Australia, the Intelligent Water Networks (IWN) Program is a partnership between Victoria’s peak industry association, VicWater, various water utilities and Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
The objective of IWN program is to investigate new technologies and innovations that meet common challenges such as population growth, aging infrastructure and climate variability in a more efficient manner.
Its Big Data and Analytics Program is helping Victorian water utilities to transition into “digital utilities” by exploring new and emerging technologies designed to better manage and integrate data.
Western Water has committed to one of these initiatives by testing a data management platform that displays integrated data and automates standard operating procedures. The platform links to existing management systems within the utility and new Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to connect their vehicle fleet and stationary assets.
Barwon Water is assessing cloud-based, big-data-management systems that can be customized to integrate with its existing asset management systems. It is testing an Enterprise Decision Analytics platform to improve its management of water and sewer mains and pumping stations, and predictive analytics on telemetry data to improve pump performance and efficiency.
Lower Murray Water and East Gippsland Water are piloting a solution to demonstrate aggregation and analysis of data from distributed assets, including smart meters and sensors. Aggregating data should help to simplify reporting by saving time and reducing human errors.
Singapore water agency PUB’s Wastewater Treatment Demonstration Plant at Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant (WRP) is an example of how technology can be integrated into water infrastructure. The plant was recognized as the 2018 Water/Wastewater Project of the year by Global Water Awards.
The objective of the demonstration plant is to provide operational experience for treatment processes planned in the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant (TWRP). Its role is to validate the technologies and operating processes suitable at TWRP, with a focus on energy efficiency, ease of operation and maintenance, robustness of technologies, and reliability of treated water quality for NEWater production.
TWRP is a core component of Singapore’s Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS). The DTSS is a cost-efficient and sustainable used water superhighway proposed by PUB to meet Singapore’s long-term needs for used water collection, treatment, reclamation and disposal.
Ultra-clean, high-grade reclaimed water, known as NEWater, is part of Singapore’s Four National Taps strategy. The other taps are local catchment water, imported water and desalinated water.
The engineering innovation in the demonstration plant includes a flexible design to operate different treatment processes to optimize water quality and energy usage as well as a compact design to fit within the confines of the existing Ulu Pandan WRP.
It incorporates a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that supports full automation. Sensors and instrumentation at the plant help PUB understand how the plant is performing in real time. This understanding allows decisions to be made in real time to optimize performance. This includes understanding when changes need to be made in any of the equipment and scheduling them for timely maintenance.
The Water Supplies Department (WSD) of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region plans to adopt fiber optic technology as a trial to detect and pinpoint leaks from water mains.
Leveraging on fiber optic technology to ”digitize” the water distribution supply network for smart water loss management is a world-first innovation.
Under WSD’s Water Intelligent Network (WIN), the fresh water distribution network will be divided into more than 2000 discrete district metering areas (DMAs) and associated pressure management areas (PMAs) with monitoring and sensing equipment installed in each.
To enable effective management of the data collected, WSD plans to establish an intelligent network management computer system for analyzing the data collected for continuous monitoring of the network condition.
The WIN will prioritize problematic DMAs and PMAs for follow-up actions according to the amount of water loss. WIN will enable WSD to determine the most suitable network management measures to maintain network health.