A new global collaborative study helmed by consultant engineering firm Stantec aims to help water utilities identify aspects of their practices that may be underutilizing advancements in smart digital technology.
Spearheaded by the Water Research Foundation (WRF), the project will leverage ongoing advancements in sensor, data management and analytics, as well as digital communication technologies throughout the 11-month project that hopes to help utilities make more data-driven decisions through the creation of an Intelligent Water Systems (IWS) framework.
Funded by WRF with support from the Great Lakes Water Authority, as well as the in-kind support of research participants, 30 water utilities from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Singapore, will work with seven data solutions providers and Stantec’s research team to improve operations such as infrastructure monitoring, catching water main breaks sooner, or reducing operational costs by becoming more efficient with personnel.
“Everyone is in a different stage of their digital solutions implementation, or intelligent water transformation journey,” explains Prabhu Chandrasekeran, a senior principal at Stantec and co-principal investigator for the digital transformation study. “At the end of the day they will have a roadmap that will help them understand what their deficiencies are, and help them from a people perspective, a business practice perspective, and a technology perspective,” he added.
According to a 2017 study by Northeast Group, water utilities across the U.S alone expect to invest $8.3 billion in smart infrastructure over the next decade.
Chandrasekeran says that while technology implementation is not something new to the water industry, there have been significant advancements over the last five to 10 years in areas such as memory and cloud computing technologies, along with the proliferation of sensor technologies.
The study will help utilities decide which projects are most beneficial to implement, said Chandrasekeran, who will be working alongside Stantec’s Dr. Carla Cherchi, a senior environmental specialist, and a nine-person technical advisory committee. The project scope will also include the development of an online progress tool to allow utilities to more easily evaluate and validate their digital maturity.
“Although various research organizations, utilities, and solution providers are assisting the industry in addressing parts of the transition to a digital and smart water sector, this study will create the first IWS framework to embed digital solutions and platforms in everyday utility business practice,” announced Dr. Cherchi in a statement about the project.
On the data solutions side, Dr. Cello Vitasovic of 9D Analytics LLC is partnering on the technology study. He said in a statement that he joined the team because he believes that Stantec is “grounded in the real needs of utilities” and can produce results that are practical and deliverable.
The project, entitled Definition of Smart Utility – How to be a Digital Utility and the Framework for an Intelligent Water System, is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.