SA Water is embarking on a pilot project that will make Penneshaw the first town in South Australia to be 100 per cent connected to the utility’s smart water network. We caught up with SA Water’s Manager of Strategic Asset Management, Dr Helen Edmonds, who is the architect of the smart network program, to get the latest update.

Since beginning in August 2018, SA Water has successfully installed over 300 smart meters at properties in Penneshaw, along with the installation of two flow and pressure sensors in the main supply network.

The shift towards smart water meters is fuelled by the utility’s drive to empower customers by providing them with the information they need to manage their water consumption and repair leaks earlier.

“It’s about empowering customers to manage their water use and their water bills, giving them access to more information about when and where they’re using it. It helps them in looking for ways to save water, but also allows them to check for leaks on their property,” Dr Edmonds said.

“At the moment if a customer has a leak, they don’t know about it until the three month meter reading, and that can be quite a lot of money for some of them. The pilot project gives them data hourly, weekly, monthly, whatever they need to be able to look for these leaks.”

Learnings from the CBD trial

The Penneshaw project follows the successful trial of a $4 million smart water network in the Adelaide CBD, which has been live since July 2017. This network includes 100 smart meters at 70 business customer sites, and a combined 336 flow meters, pressure, water quality and leak detection sensors.

The Adelaide CBD trial enabled the utility to address challenges faced in the implementation of the technology in order to continue rolling out the meters in different locations.

“None of what we installed in the CBD trial is new, it’s all well-proven sensors and technology. It was just the time frame we had to put it in that was the challenge,” Dr Edmonds said.

“We only had a few months so we were always going to get hiccups where things weren’t communicating quite right. We found a lot of things that we couldn’t transmit data through like cast iron lids on chambers.

“It was just about slowly working through how we could get signals out of chambers. That involved digging holes in the sides of the chambers, different antennas and different communications technology.

“The other thing was the integration of all the different elements we put in. The team worked together to work through each problem, trial solutions and find something that worked.”

The data is collected through 305 acoustic leak detection sensors, 34 pressure sensors of which 23 are transient loggers, 11 flow meters, three water quality monitors, and 100 smart meters on customer connections. The information is transmitted over long-term evolution and narrow band technologies to an analytics platform, at five to 15 minute intervals.

Dr Edmonds said there have been a number of situations where customers have been able to identify leaks on their property and identify them within hours rather than months.

“We moved from a reactive approach to a proactive approach to maintenance. In a typical year we used to get about 40 failures in the CBD, historically they would have been big failures shutting down roads. In the first year of operation, we had 17 sudden failures, and we had 22 that we were able to identify with the acoustic sensors and fix overnight.”

In September 2018, SA Water’s adoption of smart water network technology was recognised with a bronze prize at the International Water Association’s Project Innovation Awards in Tokyo.

The international award follows a number of other accolades for SA Water’s smart network, including two awards at the 2018 Australian Internet of Things Awards, as well as the title of 2018 Australian Digital Utility of the Year, awarded jointly to SA Water and Horizon Power.

Penneshaw pilot program

Dr Helen Edmonds, Manager of Strategic Asset Management, SA Water

Penneshaw was selected for the pilot project due to the small and contained nature of the local water main network. The area’s topography also allowed for radio transmission to securely relay the information from meter to portal.

SA Water installed 300 of the 200HT Hybrid smart meters made by Honeywell Elster, each featuring a digital reading display, 15-year battery life and an integrated Taggle Byron™ wireless radio transmitter.

“We used Taggle for the smart meters in the CBD and again for Penneshaw, the difference being that in the CBD we attached a communications device into the existing meters. In Penneshaw we’re actually changing out existing meters for meters with inbuilt communications — so they’re smart meters,” Dr Edmonds said.

“By the end of October 2018, we will have all the technology in place, so we’ll start looking at what’s happening and what it’s telling us. We’ll also start giving customers access to the portal in the next couple of months.

“From there, we’ll start working with customers to understand what they want from a portal, what data do they want to see, what’s useful and what’s not useful, so that helps us tailor the portal in the future.”

The bigger picture

Dr Edmonds said the rollout of smart meters on a larger scale is completely feasible, it just takes time.

“It’s not something you can offer to customers and say ‘okay you want a smart meter’, and that’s because of the communications piece. You have to make sure the communications are rolled out in parallel with the meters.

“The future of water utilities is definitely heading towards digitisation but it’s where it makes sense to do so. We look at it from a customer perspective. We look for customer benefits in the digital rollout, if there is no customer benefit then we shouldn’t be doing it. Ultimately the customer is at the heart of everything that we do.

“Even the work we’ve done in the CBD was driven by minimising disruption to locals and the community. The rollouts we’re doing are all about minimising water loss and costs to customers by reducing failures in the network. SA Water will continue to listen to what the customer wants and expects, and that will shape the direction we go.”

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