Sydney Water is undertaking the first wastewater monitoring Internet of Things (IoT) deployment of its scale in Australia, which is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per month in potential blockages.

The agreement will see Sydney Water spend $15 million dollars to install over 26,000 blockage detection devices across 4,600km of wastewater infrastructure by June 2024. Sydney Water has already installed 9,000 devices across its wastewater network.

The sensors detect about 20 blockages in the gravity wastewater network per month on average, saving approximately $400,000 in incident costs. Sensors are installed on existing wastewater infrastructure and frequently send back data readings.

These data readings are preconfigured to trigger an alarm when certain thresholds are met to indicate a potential blockage. These alarms allow Sydney Water to act on the issue before a wastewater overflow occurs.

As the system detects blockages in wastewater pipes before they lead to wastewater discharge into customer properties and the environment, incidents can be avoided that could pose a public health risk and incur massive clean-up costs and result in reputational damage. The devices from project partner Kallipr and Metasphere are data loggers attached to sensors that communicate regular data readings.

The loggers are pre-configured to alert operators when the data indicates that a potential blockage has occurred. This allows a rapid response from Sydney Water, resulting in more efficient management of its assets.

Head of Operational Technology at Sydney Water, Craig Earl, said he is excited about the multi-million dollar initiative. “This is a transformational project for Sydney Water. We’re stepping into the Internet of Things with internet connected devices.

“We’re leading the industry on some of this new deployment which is resulting in massive savings via early detection of blockages in our wastewater network,” Mr Earl said. “We’ve worked with other utilities around the country and industry partners as well. We’re really focused on that Australian ability to drive innovation, not just nationally but on a global scale as well.”

Craig Earl, Sydney Water head of operational technology (left) and Christoph Prackwieser, Sydney Water internet of things manager (right) with one of 26,000 blockage sensor devices.

Significant cost savings

Sydney Water’s Internet of Things Manager, Christoph Prackwieser, said the cost savings generated by the sensors have been considerable. “So far, around 400 blockages at environmentally high-risk sites have been identified and cleared. We are saving $400,000 a month in avoidance costs with this technology,” Mr Prackwieser said.

Mr Earl said the results have been pleasing, with the data from the 9,000 devices currently installed creating a return every month on cost avoidance, plus the added benefit of protecting the environment. The majority of blockages are caused by tree roots penetrating pipes or access chambers, although grease and wet wipes also contribute to blockage build-up.

The sensors can withstand high humidity and water immersion. The more than five year battery life reduces the need for maintenance and site visits significantly. The devices can reliably and securely record and send data from remote and difficult-to-access areas by operating on the  NB IoT network.

Driving wastewater network digitisation

Mr Prackwieser said the Internet of Things technology is a game changer. “The Internet of Things is a monitoring technology which allows us to securely connect these devices via the internet to our systems. It’s been working very well and has generated good outcomes,” Mr Prackwieser said.

Mr Earl said the placing of the sensors is of paramount importance, so the utility has been very strategic about their placement, as it’s about maximising the ability to protect the environment. “So many of our assets are around creeks and streams or places like Sydney Harbour where we’re installing these sensors, we’re ensuring we protect these special places,” Mr Earl said.

More than 8,800 sensing devices have been installed in the past 18 months, and the deployment work continues at a rate of between 160 and 210 devices a week. Sydney Water envisages there will ultimately be tens of thousands of devices in the field.

Installing the devices will allow Sydney Water to build on its highly successful wastewater management project. It is driving the digitisation of its existing wastewater networks and allowing for proactive management of blockage events within the infrastructure.

Mr Earl said he’s proud to be a part of the initiative and constantly shares his findings with his family. “They know how passionate I am about this project and listen to my stories. They say to me ‘yes Dad, yes Dad’. They know it’s something that excites me and it excites me because I know we’re making a difference to this great city,” Mr Earl said.

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