Traditional supervisory control and data acquisition (or SCADA) assets are commonly used in the water sector to enhance oversight of operations, but in a move which will incorporate mass deployment of low-powered sensors, South East Water predicts their 100,000 real-time data points are set to grow to over 6,000,000 in the coming decade.

According to Andrew Forster-Knight, Group Manager of Intelligent Systems at South East Water, “Real-time reporting will jump over 60-fold in the next five to ten years, providing us with more information on our assets than ever before – the challenge for us is how we leverage this data to create efficiencies.”

The recent SCADA Australia conference showcased practical SCADA case studies, trends, challenges and opportunities in upgrading control systems. Mr Forster-Knight’s presentation at the conference detailed the modernisation of management processes made possible through implementation of low-powered sensors to manage the retailer’s $3.5billion of infrastructure through a SCADA network.

“South East Water’s assets encompass over 300 sewage pumping stations, 180 water pumping stations, 70 water storage facilities, nine local sewage treatment plants, 4,000 pressure sewer stations and 1,000 low-powered sensors,” he said.

“It is essential for the business to have a 24/7 live feed on how our network is operating, how each pump and plant is performing within that network and that each asset is communicating with the others to provide seamless water and sewerage services for the 1.65 million people we supply.”

Monitoring and controlling water and sewer assets through SCADA.

Monitoring and controlling water and sewer assets through SCADA.

The retailer integrates SCADA into almost all essential network operations. This includes automated generator management and control, which has allowed initiatives such as pool pricing, where the price signal is directly read from the market and generators operate in real-time. Integration with weather services also allows assets to be controlled based on environmental conditions.

“When major storm fronts are detected, the pressure sewer network can automatically shut down in order to ease the load on treatment plants and other transfer infrastructure,” he said.

“Having a high-speed, Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol-based SCADA network allows real-time sharing of data between assets in the entire network. It also allows for greater insight into asset behaviour and operational status, as things such as CCTV cameras, pump diagnostics and instrumentation health can now be easily accessed from control rooms.”

Andrew Forster-Knight.

Andrew Forster-Knight.

Mr Forster-Knight said the business is on a journey to discover all it can about its assets in order to optimise the operations of the water and wastewater networks, with low-powered sensors key to enabling collection of this data.

“Battery technology and low-powered micro-controllers have progressed significantly in recent years, allowing for mass deployment of low-cost sensors. These can monitor everything from flow, pressure, odour and water quality with all information transmitted back to a central SCADA system for analysis and action.”

Deployment of a mass network of sensors to monitor and control operation of infrastructure and optimisation of assets is the main focus for the retailer’s intelligent systems team. In-house developed technology is providing innovative solutions to age-old issues faced by water and sewer retailers, including BlokAid (a self-contained overflow monitoring device providing early warning of increasing levels in manholes or drains), NuRON (creates virtual water distribution networks) and HydroTrak (data logger with built in GPS monitoring capability).

“The low-powered sensor network complements the other machine-to-machine initiatives that we are already running,” said Mr Forster-Knight.

“These include remotely controlled residential water tanks (for optimising rainwater capture and reducing load on nearby stormwater infrastructure) as well as thousands of domestic pressure sewer pumps, all of which are remotely controlled and monitored by the SCADA system in real-time.”

Incorporating pioneering technical solutions into water and sewerage networks has ultimately enabled the retailer to transform assets to perform as high-speed communications hubs. The pathway towards increasingly intelligent networks will continue in coming years.

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