Interest in smart water networks on the increase

Second knowledge exchange meeting of the 2021 Hydroinformatics Platform shares experts’ experiences

Establishing smart water networks requires vision, patience and stamina. This is not an easy task, as was shown by the practical examples that were discussed at the Hydroinformatics knowledge exchange meeting on 12 May. In recent years, drinking water companies have become increasingly interested in smart water technology, which offers opportunities to improve the performance and resilience of water systems by combining sensors, actuators and models.

Several knowledge exchange meetings are organised annually as part of the Hydroinformatics theme of the Water Utilities Industry Research (BTO). The second meeting this year was held recently. Experts in smart water networks shared their experiences with setting up systems of this kind. They also talked about the challenges and potential returns. Significant investments are being made worldwide in the development and application of these networks.

Lessons from Singapore

The first contribution of the session came from Teh Ming Hwang of the Public Utilities Board in Singapore. He talked about PUB’s journey over the past thirty years to develop and build a smart water network. PUB operates on the principle that sensor and data design are the foundation of a smart water network, with the background philosophy that preventive action is better than reactive action. A commitment to high precision and low variability in operations was therefore chosen. PUB has come a long way but systems that meet its requirements are now becoming available and its vision is therefore starting to come alive in practice.

Five pillars

In the development and construction of smart water networks, PUB uses five pillars: the proactive management of assets, a real-time digital twin of the network, incident monitoring (command & control), streamlining work processes and data-driven customer interaction, for example targeting water conservation.

Four design themes

During the pursuit of its vision, PUB has not limited itself to the technology available on the market; it has initiated or even implemented many developments itself. Teh Ming Hwang named four design themes that have been crucial for PUB. Starting with the sensor itself, reliability and robustness are essential in Singapore’s challenging environment, which is characterised by heat and high humidity. The second theme relates to the monitoring station. Here, the optimal location is determined by using algorithms which, among other things, predict whether sufficient energy can be generated using solar panels. The algorithms are also used to optimise the design of the station. The third theme is telemetry, which uses information about the coverage of mobile data connections from the government to automatically find locations with good data connectivity. The final theme relates to the way in which the final data can be converted into meaningful information. This could include the verification of data by the sensor itself, condition monitoring and maintenance planning.



Smart water grid – the four pillars in the philosophy of the Public Utilities Board, Singapore (PUB).

Experiences and applications at De Watergroep

An example of smart water networks closer to home was also discussed during the knowledge exchange meeting. Nele Philips of De Watergroep (Belgium) explained the challenges facing this water company, the largest in Flanders: declining water availability and water quality from sources, peak consumption and leakage losses. By deploying more sensors and gathering more data, smarter solutions can be found to meet these challenges.

Water-Quality Sensors

Sensors can be deployed at numerous points between source and tap. An explanation was given of the use of sensors to monitor the water quality of surface water sources. De Watergroep uses multi-parameter sensors for this purpose. The input of river water to a reservoir is controlled  on the basis of continuous monitoring with these sensors. This continuous measurement is essential here because the water quality – and specifically the salinity – can alter very quickly and weekly sampling is unsuitable to control the intake.

Internet of Water

Philips also told us about the Internet of Water project in which De Watergroep is participating. This project involves work on a fine-meshed measuring and forecasting system in surface water that focuses on salinisation and the monitoring of sewer overflows. The central thrust of the project is the development of chip-based sensors that require little maintenance and cost significantly less than the current generation of water-quality sensors. The monitoring data will be stored in a database in the cloud using the FiWare standard. The project, which is being conducted with partners Aquafin, Imec, Vito, Vlakwa and VMM, will continue until 2023.

Pressure Sensors

The second type of sensors described by Philips are pressure sensors in the pipe network. De Watergroep has set up an action plan, aptly named ‘Leakie’, to combat leakage losses in the mains network. The aim of the action plan is to repair and prevent leaks more effectively. One component of this plan is the SmartWaterGrid project, in which a hybrid digital twin is being developed on the basis of real-time data, GIS data, hydraulic models and human expertise.

The different elements of the SmartWaterGrid project.

Water sector experience with smart grids

The conclusion to be drawn from this knowledge exchange meeting is that establishing a smart, resilient, water infrastructure that performs optimally is not an easy task. It requires vision, patience and endurance. Some water companies have adopted a leadership position in this regard and there is much to learn from their work.