The Smart Water Grid
A new way to describe the relationship between technology, resource management, and sustainable water infrastructures
By Carol Brzozowski
According to IBM, one in eight people worldwide lack access to safe water supplies. By now, everyone is familiar with the phrase “smart grid”, but its typical association is with electricity. And while the emerging phrase “smart water grid” may be another way to describe water efficiency protocols that have been in place over the years, its increasing role in the water industry lexicon describes the relationship between technology and resource management as well as the creation of more sustainable water infrastructures.
Case in point:
The SEQ Water Grid, instituted in 2008 in response to a long-term drought, is a network of potable bulk water pipelines connecting areas with an oversupply of water to those lacking water in South East Queensland in Australia.
The National Smart Water Grid is a proposal to alleviate fresh water-related problems in the United States by mitigating floods along the Midwest’s rivers and providing fresh water to ease the arid West by capturing water during flood events at or above regulated surface elevation, transporting it via pipeline to reservoirs in approved destinations.
The Mediterranean island of Malta received 120,000 smart water meters from Itron in an ongoing effort to build a fully integrated water system. Some 25,000 Itron water meters and communication modules have already been delivered to connect to an existing Ondeo Systems smart metering solution as part of a large-scale smart water grid program managed by IBM.
Smart Water Grid schematic
Smart Water, Smart Energy
IBM views water challenges as focusing on quantity, quality, and energy. According to IBM, most companies have begun to look at their water footprint, and some agencies predict public companies will soon be required to disclose water efficiency in their annual reports.
An Alliance for Water Efficiency study estimates that for every million dollars spent on water efficiency in the US, 10 trillion gallons of water can be saved, and 220,000 jobs can be created to increase economic output by as much as $2.8 million. In 2007, IBM launched Big Green Innovations, focusing primarily on “advanced water management”, which the company describes as encompassing “a broad agenda from availability and quality to distribution and consumption.”
This year, IBM launched the Intelligent Operations Center, which will integrate data, analysis, and coordination within a city, giving leaders real-time information about a spectrum of events, from a potential water main break to predicting crime “hot spots”. The water management component is designed to address the problem of 60% of water lost through leaky pipes, many of which exceed 100 years.
IBM’s near-real-time analytics systems track and report on infrastructure conditions including filtration equipment, water pumps and valves, collection pipes, water storage basins, and laboratory equipment. The system uses geospatial data to pinpoint problem areas. Another benefit is increased water consumption awareness, with the goal of modified water consumption habits that will enhance sustainability.
“Show me a water issue, and I will show you some part of it—and maybe all of it—that is about information,” says Peter Williams, chief technology officer for Big Green Innovations. “Either the information does not exist, or, if it does, it’s in the wrong scale or is incomplete or fragmented within and between multiple agencies or not being used, or the models being used to analyze data are incomplete.”
Conditions similar to the energy grid are now being addressed for the smart water grid, Williams says. Analogous operating conditions include wide geographical areas, communications and security issues, as well as many sensing needs, data types, scales, and frequencies.
Analogous technology responses include:
- embedded intelligence for automated detection and actuation of response
- granularity of data enabling greater levels of control and responsiveness
- use of advanced metering to deliver price signals and capture data about consumption and line/pipe network status
- applicability of a non-intrusive appliance load-monitoring concept
- a focus on problem prediction rather than reaction through data mining and analytics
- centrality of asset management software
- optimization technologies as the key to day-to-day management
Williams says future technologies will build upon existing ones, including analytics-based leak detection through existing network data as opposed to separate microphones and personnel in trucks, dynamic pump optimization to save large energy amounts, higher levels of detailed pressure management, a growing use of advanced water metering infrastructures, optimized stormwater and combined sewer overflow system management, and water pumping and treatment activity as a factor in energy grid demand response.
What’s on the horizon: automated water-quality sensing to supplement and supplant lab-based testing for many substances and automated water use monitoring at the appliance level without the need for submeters, which works by analyzing pressure signatures and pipe vibration, Williams says.
A Water/Energy Network
Paul Gagliardo is manager of Innovation Development for American Water, the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company serving 15 million people in 30 states and in two Canadian locations. Hired two years ago to identify new technologies or ideas that can add value to the American Water asset base, Gagliardo’s screening criteria focuses on lower operating costs, greater efficiencies, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, with input from subject area experts. “If it looks good and we think we have places to deploy it, we begin a stage gate process,” says Gagliardo. “We collect information and see if it moves on through the gate and onto the next stage.”
ENBALA is the first innovation that has done so to American Water’s satisfaction. The ENBALA Power Network manages the way electrical equipment uses power without impacting process efficiency or operational. Network participants are paid for participation. Participants specify customized constraints on flexibility and availability and incur no costs in platform connection.
“Their concept is the first application I’ve seen related to the water-energy nexus that has significant far-reaching potential impact,” says Gagliardo. “In the electric system, there are generators and there are users, and there also are various ISOs around the country.
“ENBALA does regulation services, a demand side regulation with a micro adjustment to the grid,” he continues. “Instead of dropping off the big load altogether for a long period of time, the ISO balances the grid on a second-by-second basis, putting out a signal indicating it needs less or more on the grid.”
Historically, grid operators paid generators to ramp their generating capacity up and down,” says Gagliardo. “That tends to be not very efficient. You end up using higher-polluting generation capacity because they are smaller gensets and can ramp up and down a lot easier than the huge power plants can. That’s valuable to the ISO so they’re not overbuying. There are not brownouts on the other side.”
American Water is working with one such ISO–PJM in the northeastern US on implementing the program after successfully executing a demonstration program and working out IT security issues.
“You can’t store electricity,” points out Gagliardo. “So the supply and demand has to be balanced. The closer it is balanced, the more efficient everything is.”
Demand-response programs have provided a “macro adjustment” to the grid, he says. For example, an entity may drop a 1-MW pump off the grid at the ISO’s request during a high-demand period and get paid for it. American Water uses the same amount of electricity, but is just changing the time its being used, Gagliardo says.
He also finds it interesting that, “There has always been a big argument in the water business that it takes a long time to implement new technologies. We are looking at 12 months from the first meeting I had with ENBALA to deployment. I find that bucking the trend somewhat.
“By being able to deploy demand-side regulation, the grid operator could value different kinds of electricity in different manners,” he adds. “It could change the choices of the generation capacity, what can be sold into the system. It can be much more efficient, greener, and reduce greenhouse gases.”
Gagliardo says once a platform is installed in a facility—even if it’s only managing one load or impacting one pump—the infrastructure is there to build upon. “This idea was sold on the basis of no impact on operations. This is our core business, not playing around with the grid.”
Data at Your Fingertips
Ten years ago, Ann Arbor, Michigan’s water utilities department came close to having to declare a water emergency and impose restrictions due to drought. “That was a wake-up call for the city that we had an issue,” says Sue McCormick, the public services area administrator.
Other challenges existed.
The city’s mechanic and gear-driven meters exceeded 20 years. The water department was losing track of low flow, common in residential applications. The meter’s pins were corroding; maintenance was an ongoing issue. Additionally, utilities managers were seeking to get a greater frequency of reads. The city had only 60% completion of a 10-year goal to convert from a manual internal dial reading system to a remote reading system. “Our remote reading was not even a touch pad—it was a pin connection/gun read system,” says McCormick.
Meter readers sometimes had to enter homes to read meters. They often had to make appointments because most of the city’s population was not home during the day and there was a large rental population. The water department had difficulty meeting ordinance requirements of at least one read per year. “When we looked at technology, it wasn’t that difficult to make a business case to do something,” says McCormick. “The question was what was going to be the best for our system in the long term.”
Water utilities managers were looking beyond meter reading capabilities for a system that also would provide data acquisition for planning, modeling, and enhanced customer service. In 2004, the city installed Aclara’s Star Network, a radio frequency data capture technology. Utility managers favored Aclara for the short payback, meter reading elimination, customer service, and billing staff reduction and significant maintenance reduction. Additionally, the city obtained daily reads, addressing the challenge of doing reads at turn-off and turn-on times for the high-turnover rental population.
The need to validate data for billing and estimating errors disappeared, McCormick says. Prior to the Aclara system installation, many customer calls focused on high bill complaints, notes Wendy Welser, customer service manager for the Ann Arbor water utilities department. While customer service reps could tell callers that they had used more water in one quarter compared to the previous quarter, they couldn’t identify when or for how many days.
The department offered to pull and test the meter; if there was no problem, the customer bore the testing expense. If there was, the city replaced the meter at no charge. But more often than not, the meter was correct. As soon as the data became available through the Aclara system, the water utilities department posted it on the Internet for customers.
“We became recognized in the industry for doing that,” says Welser. “When they call now, we can refer them to that data if they haven’t looked at it themselves and show them when they began to increase their usage, over what period of time and if it tapered off or stopped.”
That helps customers identify possible causes or isolate leaks. Ann Arbor uses the data to examine commercial customer usage over a one-year period to figure average daily usage versus peak day usage, taking into account the ratio in-between. A rate system was created for commercial customers where every unit of water is based on that difference.
The water department created an inclining block rate structure for residential customers, giving them an incentive to closely monitor water usage, which in turn has resulted in water conservation, notes Welser.
And not a moment too soon.
“We were at a point where we had to start looking for additional sources of raw water,” she says. “We would have had to go outside the city limits to do that. It would have been very costly.”
Ann Arbor has 27,600 billable customers and about 32,000 meters. Having a system that would enable the water department to strategically forecast water usage against resource availability was a critical factor in developing a more sustainable approach, notes McCormick, who adopted practices for the city she learned in previous work with an electric utility. “It was really clear that the most significant system investment we had coming wasn’t in treatment plants, storage, and pipes—it was in development of raw water resources,” she says.
“Although Michigan is noted for the Great Lakes and everybody thinks about us as water aplenty, Ann Arbor is in the middle of the state where we don’t have access to the Great Lakes,” adds McCormick. “We have groundwater resources and a river we use locally as well, but if we were ever to withdraw our permitted requirements, we would create dry river beds. It’s not feasible for us to use our capacity to our permit in the river and our groundwater resources are challenged.
“Those in the city have experienced bacteriological issues over time and been closed,” she continues. “Recently, a contamination site resulted in the closure of our last urban well. We already only have one well field remote from the city. We would have to establish other remote well fields in order to develop new capacity.”
McCormick says her resource-constrained department looks at water as a planning cycle encompassing water, wastewater, and stormwater that requires efficiencies in managing the capital investments in all of those sectors. “We have a very systems-oriented approach to planning. Each of these is a dynamic for us. When we looked at living within our existing water allocation within the city, our primary objective was to get at something that would manage peak demand on the system, which drives our water resources capacity.”
The peak demand was near 38 million gallons a day, but average day demand throughout the year was about 18 million gallons a day. “We really wanted to shave that summer peak or at least create a cost allocation system where users who were driving that peak pay for the improvements necessary to meet it,” says McCormick. “When you start to create the appropriate cost-value equation for customers, they make different decisions.”
Ann Arbor tried to make changes that didn’t result in an “artificial economy,” says McCormick. “We don’t artificially raise the prices on unit commodity or demand,” she says. “We go through quite a bit of rigor to assign costs based on customer user patterns and we’ve spent a lot to educate the community about our approach.”
The city relied the University of Michigan to help in its cost study that transitioned from a flat unit charge to its current billing practices of cost-assigned structures. The university also embarked on water sustainability efforts, retrofitting its campus with more water efficient hardware such as dry urinals and motion-activated water faucets. Dorms monitored their water usage online, competing to see who could conserve the most water over a period of time.
Today, while Ann Arbor’s average daily water use hasn’t changed much, peak demand has been reduced substantially, McCormick notes, attributing that not only to appliance retrofits, but also irrigation use changes. “That helps us avoid looking for new resources and allows us to optimize the use of the system in general for decades to come without having to make new capital investments.”
For example: Ann Arbor can extend the life of its wastewater facilities. The city’s master plan calls for replacing half of the plant that was constructed in the 1930s at the same capacity level.
“We are recovering capacity in the wastewater system by removing stormwater flow from the system, and we’re getting enough gain in water efficiency that our forecast is we can live within the existing capacity of our wastewater system for
decades,” says McCormick.
The transition was not painless, Welser says. Residential customers were not keen on the inclining block rate structure, as residents had difficulty understanding that the more water they consumed, the higher would be the costs to deliver it.
“We like to believe that putting that data online for customers helped them make better informed choices about how they use water,” says Welser.
Aclara has taken a “more than average interest” in Ann Arbor’s water utility practices as they are demonstrating what could be viewed as the creation of a smart water grid, Welser notes. “They haven’t seen another water utility acting like electric utilities are,” she adds.
While Ann Arbor may not get to the point of using real-time water data until the value of doing so becomes clearer, the water department is looking to expand beyond its present two daily readings. “You can still see most days what’s happened between those two-hour reads, and it has helped customers make different choices about their water,” she Welser.
The approach isn’t focused just on using less water, but also leveling it out, Welser says. Rather than using a fluctuating amount of units over a month’s time, the Utilities Department would rather see consistent numbers. “What we can’t manage are these huge peaks in the system that we have no control over without greater expense,” she says.
|Photo: BADGER METER, INC
|Photo: BADGER METER, INC.
AMI brings real-time billing information to the public.
Advanced Asset Management
Covina, California’s water utility serves 8,600 connections in a city of 49,000 residents. At one time, its utility billing software process had been causing a lot of problems for the public works department. Aside from it being antiquated and unable to process credit cards or online payments, the water utility was experiencing a lot of non-revenue water loss. The bill would get adjusted in a way that resulted in the water utility losing track of consumption. Covina chose Global Water’s Fathom Utility-to-Utility solutions for a new billing system.
The system combines Customer Information System (CIS), asset management and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). “When we saw auto-read meters that would dovetail with the billing system and offer real-time reads to the customers, we realized it was time to come into the next phase,” says Kalieh Honish, Covina’s assistant director of public works.
There were other concerns.
“Western California water utilities were going through the drought like everybody else, and this was becoming more tenuous and more expensive with our water supply,” says Honish. “The need for a rate increase and to get control of our customers’ usage also came at that time. At the same time, California comes out with the mandate of the 20 by 2020 Water Conservation Plan.
“I thought, ‘How are we going to get our customers to reduce by 20%, because we were already in a drought situation and using drought rates? They were authorized under our existing authorized rate ordinance, but we didn’t see a reduction. Our rates had been so low for so long. When we ratcheted them up to a drought rate, which is a small percentage, there was no impact.”
Covina authorized a rate study, dovetailing it with the new billing system in an effort to keep better track of water consumption and improved customer service. “We knew people were going to think we were just gouging them for no reason, but the reality is as a municipal utility, we can’t turn a profit,” says Honish. “We can only charge exactly what it costs us. At the time, as our water supply rates were skyrocketing, that was a huge increase. We were actually losing money.”
Another factor is Covina’s aged infrastructure.
“Our system is more than 100 years old; a lot of it is undocumented and deteriorating,” says Honish. “Not only did we need to get our meters auto-read and up to date, but we had a situation where the system is not all mapped out. We have people on our staff who’ve worked here for 30 years and can’t tell you where a valve is.”
Covina phased in the billing system, followed by tracking options. “Global Water helped us put together a municipal lease situation,” says Honish. “We didn’t have the money, and we didn’t want to factor it into the rates because people like to say ‘You just wanted us to pay for this new toy’. No, we want them to pay for the cost of running the system, and we’ll take care of everything else.
“We took the opportunity to do this to become completely up to date, to map the system, audit all of our meters, find out if there are things in the system that shouldn’t be there, put leak detectors on all of the meters, get a valve-turning program that makes sense with the map, and get a work flow that also makes sense,” she adds.
Now customers can pay their bills online and even see their water usage on a day-to-day basis through 10 daily reads. Where before they may have questioned their bills, “They’ll see they have a leak, and that’s their responsibility,” points out Honish. “We’re just trying to get people to be aware of what’s going on and to understand that once the meter is connected to their property, we lose control of the water, but we’re trying to give them the tools that they would need to verify what we’re telling them.”
While utilities can request that a software provider customize it to their needs, Covina water managers, in order to avoid deployment and beta testing problems, asked Global Water to provide their CIS system with regular updates and testing, therefore speeding up deployment.
The project’s second phase, the AMI, is almost entirely installed except for 60 tough cases the water utility is trying to resolve, such as being able to read through concrete or deep steel vaults, says Honish.
“We have an old system, so that was a challenge when we did the meter changeout,” she says. “The change resulted in a lot of breaks for us, but that’s a normal thing. You change the pressure anywhere in our system, and you’re going to have something spring a little leak.
“The challenge now is mostly having an older staff adjust to newer technology, which we are introducing to them slowly,” adds Honish. “These guys very often don’t use computers at all. We’re not asking them to start using all of the systems. We’re just doing regular computer introduction and explaining to them that everything they need will be at their fingertips.”
Covina’s long-term goal is to increase sustainability, says Honish. “We didn’t have a good control of our budgetary requirements,” she says. “Our infrastructure and this system has a history of an as-needed approach. We were trying to get in front of the future demands of reduced water.”
At the same time, the city council had been emphasizing the need for improved customer service. “While we haven’t had specific complaints about customer service, the fact is we also thought about giving these increased tools to the customers so we could get in front of that,” says Honish.
Water supply was another concern.
“We felt like our water supply was solid in the here and now but tenuous for everyone in the future in terms of regulation, weather conditions, and everything that goes on in California,” she says.
“Our city is very fortunate because it happens to have a lot of water rights,” adds Honish. “We’re allowed to pump local basin water, which is great. The basin itself is controlled by somebody else and it’s got a perchlorate problem from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It’s on the other side of the county, but if you withdraw too much water because of the drought situation, the plume spreads, so now that controls how much you can take out.”
Covina has a commercial connection to its wholesale supplier, but if there are any emergencies, the city must buy water from the Three Valleys Municipal Water District, which buys from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “Which is the same thing as saying ‘really expensive water’,” says Honish. “The cost of our water doubles for no reason. When those things happen, there are always situations where we don’t know how long we’ll be on our backup connection. It’s great to have a backup connection. We’re never going to be in a situation in the near future where we say there’s no water. We’ll see it coming, to a certain degree, because we’ve got some entitlements on both sides, but it is possible to say we ran out of money.”
|Photos: RAYMOND ROGERS
|Graphs show the customer their water usage pattern.
In Clermont, FL, a community of 28,000, Raymond Rogers, the collections and distribution manager for the Clermont Utilities Department, and his colleagues look to technology to assist in water resource management in a region that depends heavily upon water conservation. Clermont is utilizing Neptune’s R450 meter interface unit, a high-power, two-way radio frequency (RF) meter data collection device designed for use with Neptune’s ARB FixedBase AMI System for water utilities. It’s designed for wall and pit applications, with the RF transmission optimizing the number of collectors and lowering the utility’s overall deployment cost.
Clermont has four towers that receive a radio signal starting at midnight, sending packets of 24-hour information until 2 p.m., and then they “go to sleep” after reporting in, Rogers says. “With all of that information, they have different times they actually receive,” says Rogers.
Clermont entered the system into service in late July 2010. Clermont has installed 8,000 meters to date, with the projected end date for project completion to be March 2012. The inaccuracy of the older meters is what precipitated the adoption of the new system, Rogers says. “You don’t know when they fail until the meter reader actually reads it. It could be a month or two before you it is caught. With the new system, you know that the count is accurate because you can see it day by day.”
Neptune’s radio read system can be used with a standard read T-10 or an E-coder register meter, Rogers says. “We have the E-Coder version of the meter which reads down to 0.01 of a gallon,” he says. “It can actually pick up leak flags and back flow alarms. If it’s a back flow alarm, it wakes the meter up and sends a packet within a 15-minute window of seeing that.
“The leak alarm comes in during a regular read and starts at midnight,” adds Rogers. “It sends a flag indicating that there’s either an intermittent leak or a continuous leak down to 0.01 of a gallon.”
Going forward with an eye toward long-term conservation, Clermont’s Utilities Department will be able to use customers’ e-mail addresses, tagging them into their accounts, which will be set up to notify them if a leak or a backflow flag comes in through the system.
“Long-term, we want our customers to be able to log into their account and be able to use it for their conservation efforts to see what water they’re using and what they can do to find leaks or problems in their irrigation system,” he says.
With Florida being a state that faces critical water shortages, the role that the system plays in marrying technology to resource management is “huge”, Rogers notes.
Clermont has a full-time water conservation employee who relies on the system to execute his duties. “He drives around in the morning and he sees watering going on in areas that we’ve already got the meters in, and he’s able to look in the system at the address in question, pull up graphs, and show exactly how many gallons they used per hour and what hours it actually ran,” says Rogers.
That helps him legitimize information he’s obtaining visually, such as a wet area on the sidewalk. “He’s got an actual graph showing this is what time the irrigation started, this is how many gallons it ran per hour, this is how long it ran per day,” says Rogers.
A common scenario is a resident watering twice a day, which is not per regulations established by the St. Johns River Water Management District. They are only allowed to water one time per day for a 60-minute maximum per zone. “We can see if they’re watering illegally on the wrong day or two times a day or whatever the case may be,” says Rogers.
The water conservation employee has encountered some customers who have questioned his findings in the past. Now he has the data available to prove it, Rogers says. “Once he presented it to them, it stopped the conversation,” he adds. “Here’s factual information and evidence of what’s going on. It basically solidified what his findings are.”
Clermont issues warnings, initial citations without fines, and then fines when customers violate the water use restriction rules. The “smart” technology is also aiding in water conservation efforts in Clermont’s planned urban developments to ascertain if a resident is exceeding the permitted monthly usage. “On some of the newer subdivisions, each lot has an irrigation use allowance,” says Rogers. “Each lot is allocated a certain amount of gallons per month.
“Once they go over their use permit, they are warned, fined, or locked off, depending on how many infractions have been received,” he says. “Everyone is allotted ‘X’ amount of gallons per house. You can flag the accounts that have that.”
Another way the system is helping Clermont is through the accuracy of the water audit data that shows water pumped versus water billed to make there is not an unacceptable water loss in the system. “It solidifies the water we’ve pumped to the water we’ve sold in real-time data,” says Rogers. “Before, we were a month behind in our reads and our billing versus pumped. Now we’ll be able to have it basically real-time. As far as auditing and the exact times, it just makes that even easier for us to make sure we are compliant with our permits.”
Rogers says he’s pleased that water efficiency efforts are being able to be conducted in-house by city staff. “We basically have three to five staff members who work on digging out the meters and installing them, and we are keeping up with industry standards. We met with outside sources to put it out to bid, and we’re actually doing in-house what they’d be doing per day. Our own staff is setting between 1,000 and 1,200 meters per month.”
Once the project is completed, it will help Clermont’s Utilities Department reallocate staff. “It’s always going to be ongoing maintenance with the system and meters because there are electronics in it, so there’s always going to be maintenance on that,” says Rogers. “It enables us to reallocate some of our meter reading staff into other system maintenance needs such as valve maintenance, hydrant maintenance, and air release valve maintenance. This will allow us to focus our resources and have a better system overall for our customers.”
Although the water smart grid and the energy smart grid are discussed as two separate entities, there is an emerging understanding that the two are closely linked: Saving water saves energy, and saving energy saves water. Case in point: The Eastern Municipal Water District in southern California, which serves more than 630,000 people in a 555-square-mile area, spends more than $10 annually for electricity.
After enrolling in an EnerNOC demand response program in 2007 and committing to reducing 1.5 MW of energy use by shutting down major electricity-consuming equipment such as pumps, the agency received $100,000 a year from EnerNOC and offered stability to the power grid.
EnerNOC provides technology-enabled demand response and energy management solutions. One such solution is DemandSMART, a demand-response application that enables organizations to earn money by reducing energy use during peak demand. The company recently created a program, PEAR—Peak Energy Agriculture Awards. Aimed at the agricultural sector in California’s Central Valley, the program works with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE) to do demand response in that market.
“We implemented technologies and products to help the customers participate in demand response, and also be able to measure their water consumptions and their soil moisture levels so they know exactly what’s going on in their operation,” says Nic Stover, EnerNOC’s regional sales director. “More importantly, they know they can tolerate a four-hour demand-response shutdown.”
Customers can correlate water and energy use, Stover adds. “The agricultural customer is not quite the same as a commercial and industrial customer,” he notes. “They’re looking at a cost per square foot of energy usage. An agricultural customer wants to know their cost per acre-foot of water.”
Through DemandSMART, EnerNOC can remotely read customers’ flow meters in the field. “Since we’re tied into their electric meter, we can calculate their electricity costs and do some calculations on the cost per acre-foot,” he says. “They can make decisions in real time: ‘My cost per acre-foot is $121. I can purchase surface water at $82 a foot. I should have my pumps down and purchase the surface water.’ It’s become valuable for the customers to be able to do that.”
The soil probes, which can go as deep as 6 feet, also provide value, he adds. “It can prevent a lot of things, the least of which is preventing overwatering,” says Stover. “If a client gets an alert that their five-foot deep sensor is going off, that means the root zone is saturated and they don’t need to keep watering, especially in areas with sandier soils.
“We’ll see customers who overwater continually because they don’t know what the moisture level is at the bottom,” adds Stover. “We’re seeing value for the customers.”
The technology ties into the idea of a water smart grid, Stover says. “In California, more than 20% of energy use involves moving water in one capacity or another,” he says. “That presents an opportunity to be more efficient. If you look at water as a standalone commodity, it’s tougher to monetize that without passing the cost along to the consumer. If you’re looking at water from a pure energy standpoint and getting more efficient in its use, there are programs the electric utilities have established that are paid for by California ratepayers that save them and the utility money, so you can apply those funds into the water aspect of the business. That’s where I see some of the crossover of the smart grid in California’s future.”
Looking forward, the biggest challenge California faces is the integration of renewable resources and how to manage them without a significant use of battery power, Stover notes.
EnerNOC is engaging in pilot programs that use deep wells as a means to help balance the grid. “We have technology out there that can respond in less than five seconds to either turn a pump on or off,” says Stover. “We have the ability to place electrical load onto the grid and take it off. Oftentimes, it isn’t for long periods of time or it’s at an obscure time like 3 a.m. to readjust the grid.
“We have the technology to automatically do that in the network operations in Sacramento,” he adds. “A signal will be issued and will automatically shut the pumps off for a period of time and turn them back on when the event is over. That’s the evolution that’s coming in terms of California agriculture.”
That technology goes back to the water side, where the hierarchy and intelligence EnerNOC has built on the backside is able to be set up where a customer can measure soil moisture, and if it gets up to a certain percentage, the customer can automatically opt out of the event. “It’s the future of tying all of the technologies together, and it’s pretty exciting,” says Stover.
Metering in Real Time
“About 70% of the typical utility’s revenue flows through commercial and industrial meters,” points out Mike Tracy, executive vice president for Sensus. “Oftentimes, the challenge is low-flow recognition, because, in traditional products, there is a lot of energy used to drive the measurement mechanism.
Technologies are a means to help utilities achieve their goals, one of which is sustainability, Tracy says.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility (Albuquerque, NM) recently availed itself of the technological opportunities Sensus offer with the adoption of the FlexNet communications network. The AMI deployment across its service territory included retrofitting all commercial meters with smart endpoints to boost operational efficiency and support water conservation programs the region.
In a two-phase program beginning with commercial customers—who comprise 13% of the water demand and provide 20% of revenue—the utility aims to install the system for 850 commercial customers by September 2011, at which time customers with radio-equipped meters will have access to their water consumption data through an online portal. In January, the water utility will plan the program’s second phase to expand AMI service to approximately 200,000 residential meters.
The utility’s goals are to increase meter reading accuracy, improve customer service, reduce data collection costs, and quickly gather critical information to help reduce non-revenue water losses and delivery costs, support water conservation programs, and manage demand.
Conservation is one of Albuquerque’s primary goals. In 2008, the municipal entity completed construction on the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project, making surface water transported from the Colorado River basin the primary source of water for the metropolitan service area. Utility managers are looking to the AMI program to help reach an eventual reduction in Albuquerque’s per capita water usage to 155 gallons per day.
Getting consumers to change behavior to conserve water is a huge advance in the face of a looming water crisis, Tracy says. “When you look at the amount of water we consume, only 1% of it in the average household is drinking water, 14% is due to leakage in the home and most of that isn’t even billed,” he adds.
Many of Sensus’ customers say they cannot account for up to 30% or even more of the water they pump into their systems. If through technology, “we can reduce the amount of water that’s not accounted for by 10% to 15% over time, the implication is the facility can meet the ever-increasing demand for water as our population grows, and it can do it without adding more incredibly expensive resources—be it reservoirs, tanks, pumps, or more chlorinating and cleaning and filtration systems to accommodate the extra capacity.”
Summing up the benefits of an AMI enabled “Smart Water Grid,” concludes Tracy, “When you’ve got customer service people who can pull up screens and look at data real time and a customer calls to ask about their bill, they can tell them it looks as if they consumed ‘X’ number of units of water over a couple of days and maybe it’s when they were filling the swimming pool. It’s really efficient and you save some money. It’s one phone call, it’s real-time data and the customer is happier because they get an immediate response from the utility.”
Author's bio: Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.