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Our increasingly industrialized society is driving an overall increase in our climate, and when the temperature rises, so does the demand for water. This surge forces water companies to enforce usage restrictions, while also pumping millions of extra liters into the water network.
Water companies expect an increase in demand for water during warmer summer months, but they need a better way of predicting how people use water and when, in addition to monitoring water quality. The answer could be sensors placed within the water network.
Mercury Rising in the UK
On 7 August 2020, temperatures soared to 36.4 °C at Heathrow Airport, the hottest August day in the UK for 17 years. South East Water say the demand for tap water increased to record-breaking 696 million liters that day, up from the normal average daily demand of 540 million liters per day. They pumped an extra two million bathtubs of water – around 150 million liters - into the network each day to meet demand during the unprecedented hot weather.
Demand for water reached never-before-seen levels, and nearly 300 homes in Sussex were left without water for almost five days; customers were either completely cut off, restricted, or suffered low pressure.
The water company advised customers to conserve water for essential purposes and to avoid filling pools and watering the garden. Extra water usage put a strain on the network of pipes, pumping stations and treatments works, leading to low pressure and loss at peak demand, such as the early evening.
Sensors to Save our Summers
Digital water technologies could be the solution to the water shortage conundrum, helping identify where in the network there are leaks, accurately predicting customers’ water use and helping to optimize processes. It is believed such advances could be the next big innovation in the coming decade, growing the industry to over $2 billion by 2030.
The water industry has been slow in their uptake of digital water technologies, but such automation could provide networks with additional capabilities by employing sensors and IoT devices. Manufacturing industries already monitor water for trace metals, and the same sensors can be employed in the water network pipe system to give a better understanding of how and when users consume water.
There are many different types of sensors that can be utilized in many different applications across the water and wastewater industries to better predict how customers use water and monitor its quality, and to help the water companies reach their goals and meet stringent targets. They might include:
- Pressure measurements – for identifying static water or stagnation
- Flow levels – for monitoring depth, pressure and velocity
- Flow meters – help to oversee velocity
- Acoustic emission – helps with recognizing leakage in the system
- Temperature measurements
- Chemical measurements – for tracking pH, trace metals etc.
Data collected from such sensors can yield a better understanding of the system, which in turn leads to better management of the systems.
Collating data on pipe flow enables companies to quickly see where there is an increase in demand and lower pressure in the pipes. They can then answer questions relating to how much water is used per day in a heatwave and when, and at what time, the network is strained.
Click here to find out more about level sensors available in the industry
Investment in Smart Water Networks
Digitizing and adding sensors to the water and wastewater network will only happen with investment, but many companies are reluctant as initial costs are so high. However, this investment is likely to come with predicted changes in regulations and the drive for smart sensor-based networks within the next five to 10 years.
As with adopting any new technologies, there are benefits and drawbacks, including high costs. However, the benefits outweigh the shortcomings. There is a real need for remote monitoring, as, not only will it remove the need for maintenance staff to regularly check pipes or collect samples for laboratory monitoring, it can speed up the identification of possible pollution in the water network and improve the efficiency of water treatment plants. Moreover, it will provide a better service for customers.
The Future of Smart Sensor-Based Water Networks
Water companies have been slow to adopt smart sensor-based water networks, but implementing such technology could result in an efficient, effective system that can remotely monitor and identify problems. This will allow companies to remotely control all aspects of distribution and proactively prioritize and identify maintenance issues, as well as ensuring that there is sufficient water flowing through the system so that even on the hottest days, everyone has enough water.
References and Further Reading
Coles, C. (2020) Sensors in the Water and Wastewater Treatment Industries 2020-2030 [Online] IDTechEx. Available at: https://www.idtechex.com/en/research-report/sensors-in-the-water-and-wastewater-treatment-industries-2020-2030/737 (Accessed 17 August 2020).
IDTechEx (2020) Predicting a Crisis Before It Happens: Sensors in the Water Network, IDTechEx Reports [Online] PR Newswire. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/predicting-a-crisis-before-it-happens-sensors-in-the-water-network-idtechex-reports-301111871.html (Accessed 17 August 2020).
Save Water Whatever the Weather. [Online] South East Water. Available at: https://www.southeastwater.co.uk/my-water-supply/save-water-save-money/save-water-at-home-this-summer (Accessed 17 August 2020).
BBC News. (2020) More Sussex homes without water as heatwave continues [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-53748040 (Accessed 17 August 2020).
BBC News. (2020) UK weather: Hottest August day for 17 years as temperatures top 36C, [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53694492 (Accessed 17 August 2020).