In December 2016, SA Water announced it was investing more than $4 million on emerging smart technology to help manage the water supply network in Adelaide’s CBD, making it one of the first Australian water utilities to broadly adopt this type of technology. SA Water CEO Roch Cheroux discusses how the trial is progressing and how other water utilities could benefit from this technology.
SA Water’s new smart network technology trial aims to help the utility manage and fix faults, such as leaks, before they escalate and cause greater disruption to the community. The smart water network includes smart meters, leakage sensors, pressure sensors, flow meters, and water quality sensors across Adelaide’s CBD.
The smart sensors track water flow and pressure, providing real-time information to the Operations Control Centre, and leading to improved water quality and network flow, and increased reliability. The technology also plays a role in supporting SA Water’s future operational, planning, and investment decisions.
Smart technology improving services
Mr Cheroux said the rollout of the sensors and meters is expected to be completed by the end of June 2017, with the full benefits to be realised in early 2018.
“Through a network of flow meters, smart meters, water quality sensors, and leakage sensors, we will be able to respond more swiftly to water main incidents such as bursts and leaks, and deliver a better experience to our customers,” Mr Cheroux said.
“One of the most exciting parts of this project is acoustic leak detection, where acoustic sensors will ‘listen’ for vibrations that indicate where in the network a leak might be occurring. This will help us to get the fault before it potentially escalates into a bigger issue. We are installing around 150 of these sensors in the Adelaide CBD.”
Other components currently being fitted include:
- Eleven flow meters – these help to measure water flows in and out of the network, to give a better understanding of how it’s performing.
- 100 smart meters for large business customers in the CBD – these will help customers to better understand and monitor their water use, but also assist SA Water with measuring demand for any future network planning.
- 30 pressure sensors and transient loggers – the pressure sensors will measure water pressure at key locations in and out of the Adelaide CBD network. The transient loggers will record any pressure spikes, and will help identify the source, allowing SA Water to better identify any potential problems in the network. Pressure transients can shorten the useful life of pipes and contribute to bursts and leaks.
- Four water quality sensors – these will measure a number of water quality parameters such as pH and turbidity. They will help with chemical dosage management at water treatment plants, and inform any other changes needed to improve the quality, including aesthetics, of the water being supplied through this part of the network.
Mr Cheroux said the main benefit of the smart network project will be the utility’s increased ability to be more responsive to customer needs.
“We want to use this technology to improve how we operate, manage, and plan our water network, with the main aim of providing immediate and long-term benefits for our customers.
“This includes having a faster response time to critical issues; a better way to predict future needs of the water network; matching our resourcing to the seasonality of water main incidents; and making the network more efficient and reliable.
“This technology is essentially a sophisticated way of making things easier for our employees and our customers,” Mr Cheroux said.
Using data to inform decisions
The smart technology is being trialled in the Adelaide CBD to start with because of the higher potential for customer impact from bursts and leaks. The CBD has a higher number of customers, including many water-dependent businesses, and consistently busy traffic.
Mr Cheroux said the locations of the sensors were chosen to maximise SA Water’s ability to collect a large quantity of relevant data about the network’s performance.
“The sensors and meters being installed will capture far more data than we have to able to collect before on how our water network is performing. We will use this data to track trends over time, and help identify and prioritise areas that need replacing or reconfiguring.
“This is an essential step forward for us, in terms of being able to operate the network to better meet the changing needs of our customers, and inform and plan our capital investment more efficiently,” Mr Cheroux said.
Once the testing and proving period of the trial is completed, SA Water will look to expand the technology into other parts of the state.
A proactive approach to water management
Water main bursts and leaks often can’t be stopped from happening, but Mr Cheroux said the smart network is about being proactive, as this technology will be able to limit the impact these incidents have on customers and the wider community if they do occur.
“Our customers are at the heart of everything we do, and we are continually looking to improve the service we provide them.
“The sensors, loggers, and meters will allow us to do things such as detect water leaks before they become visible on the surface, and help large businesses in the city track and manage their water use,” Mr Cheroux said.
The data collected by the sensors and meters is regularly monitored and reviewed, so if immediate action is required it will be noticed early and field crews can be dispatched to do repairs. Non-immediate work is also prioritised accordingly.
“As this is the first time we will be using this type of technology, we expect to learn and understand the results more as the trial in the Adelaide CBD progresses.”
Smart meters for businesses
In addition to the smart network trial, SA Water also has smart meters available to businesses across the state. Following a successful 12-month trial with 13 South Australian businesses, such as Westfield, Adelaide Oval, Zoos SA, and Nyrstar, the service, known as the Customer Water Use Portal, has now progressed to full-scale.
Mr Cheroux said the trial generated a significant demand for the service, and there are around 80 customers signed up, including several irrigators in the Clare Valley who are trialling the service as part of the Clare Valley Peak Water Transportation Scheme.
“All customers signed up to the service pay an affordable price for the installation of a data logger on their existing water meter/s, which sends water consumption information to an online portal. They can access the portal at any time, with data produced every 15 minutes in a secure, easy to read, and flexible format.
“Our Business Relations team is also continuing to be on-hand to provide support to customers with smart meters on their sites, such as leak analysis, water-use profiling, and irrigation advice,” Mr Cheroux said.
Since the project began, the main benefit that customers have reported is an increased understanding of how they use their water.
Mr Cheroux said many have been able to use information from the portal to help identify leaks or faulty equipment, allowing problems to be fixed and saving significant volumes of water and money.
“For example, Adelaide Oval used the portal to quickly identify a leak of approximately 870 litres per minute (or 1.2 million litres a day), which, if left unchecked, would have potentially cost them thousands of dollars a day in lost water. This detection and subsequent cost saving enabled the customer to pay back the investment on their smart metering equipment in just over a month.”
Technology is the way forward for water utilities
Mr Cheroux said moving to a smart network is the way of the future for Australian water utilities, and SA Water is ensuring it is one of the early adopters of the technology.
“This type of smart technology has been tested and proven by water utilities around the world, and some in Australia are beginning to use it, but so far not to the same scale as our current trial in the Adelaide CBD. I believe more water utilities are recognising the value however, of collecting network performance data in real time. This data is of benefit to utilities in terms of optimising asset life, and to the customers when it comes to providing a reliable service,” Mr Cheroux said.
“During the planning and scoping phase of our trial, we have been in contact with other utilities to learn from them, and also to share our knowledge in the smart technology space. I expect this to continue as our trial develops and new technology emerges.”
Mr Cheroux said water utilities need to be bold and embrace innovation, and able to respond to the changing needs of customers by keeping up-to-date with developing technology.
“Your desired outcome should be to achieve efficiency and effectiveness, and ultimately provide a great experience for the people you serve.
“Smart also shouldn’t mean complicated – sometimes the smartest solution is the most simple. Our basic approach to being a smart utility is to combine smart technology with smart solutions and smart people. The expertise and knowledge of your people is key.”