The Future Is Here
While we still don’t have flying cars and robot maids, the technological advances we’ve experienced in the last few years have been mind-boggling: smart phones, hybrid vehicles, the Internet. We are blessed by an abundance of shiny new gadgets that pack the power of an army of processors and applications inside their tiny frames. New wireless capabilities now allow us to download a song, watch a movie, or send an e-mail on the go, and where would we be (literally) without Google Maps and GPS? But for those of us involved in water efficiency, these new tools offer more than entertainment and navigational ease—they represent the future of water resource management. SCADA, AMI, GIS, Software—these are the instruments that will fine-tune current practices and allow us to measure and manage with an accuracy our predecessors could only dream about.
Most of you are probably familiar with Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (aka SCADA), which has been around for 40 years and helps utilities monitor and control a variety of processes and tasks in real time. An essential SCADA function involves the management of water treatment and distribution, with network management systems providing critical information on the status of network components and operations. While initially SCADA systems were designed to meet safety requirements, the newest additions collect data on essentially all activities within the system; from pump runtime to advanced pattern matching, it’s important to keep in mind that SCADA systems merely coordinate processes in real time—which allows users to determine patterns of behavior and make informed decisions about what actions should be taken in any given situation. SCADA does not, however, allow users to control processes, but there are plenty of other Distributed Control Systems (DCS) that can add that capability. In fact, the latest SCADA systems are at their strongest when matched with another complementary device, like a wireless data logger. SCADA is an important first step towards a fully integrated resource management system, but a quick look around reveals more options capable of an even greater refinement.
While Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) has become more mainstream, its high-tech counterpart—Automatic Meter Infrastructure (AMI)—is finally beginning to command attention. AMR provides us with mountains of data that can help in leak detection, bill disputes, and other basic resource management functions, but AMI takes that all to the next level. Much like SCADA, AMR automatically collects data from water meters, a task traditionally performed by your friendly meter reader, but does not allow for two-way communication. AMI fundamentally changes that dynamic, while at the same time eliminating the possibility of human error and increasing the amount of information that can be collected and stored. Similar to the much-talked-about “smart meters,” AMI systems collect and analyze energy usage while interacting with their AMR brothers, to produce a clearer picture of what is actually going on in your typical conveyance system. These AMI systems gain their strength through the streamlined interface between their hardware and software, including consumer energy displays and controllers, customer-associated systems, meter data management (MDM) software, as well as supplier and network distribution systems. AMI is the perfect middleman—deftly easing the flow of communication between a utility’s measurement device and its management system.
Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have also been around for a while, but the latest developments have helped optimize GIS for water resource management. At its most fundamental, GIS captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data linked to a specific location. As a fundamental part of GPS, GIS is the quiet technology that has made asking for directions obsolete, but its abilities don’t end there: GIS can do everything from providing logistical support to emergency first responders, to aiding developers deciding where to build the next superstore, to finding which wetlands might be vulnerable to pollution. That last one is the first clue to what GIS is doing for water resource management. Communities around the country have discovered that GIS can help with aquifer recharge (by plotting discharge points and well inlets), flood planning (by helping track the flow of water across different terrain), leak detection (by combining SCADA with AMR and billing data to determine what’s been pumped versus what’s been delivered), and maintenance management (by overlaying equipment inventory with maps of work order locales and other additional data). In many ways, GIS represents the perfect synergy between AMI and SCADA.
Of course, none of these advances would be able to reach its full potential without the right kind of software. And when it comes to those little programs that run (and optimize) your devices, it seems as if anything that can be imagined can be made possible. There’s collection software, for example, that can funnel data into a billing matrix and synchronize it with other information, thereby allowing for a quick and easy map of what’s going where and how much revenue has been gained (or lost) in the interim. Demand and forecasting software take up where previous best management practices (BMP) left off, and now—courtesy of the AWWA—we can access free BMP water audit software. And modeling software helps us manage health and efficiency of our storage and delivery systems. The list of software designed for resource management (or to facilitate the interaction between other tools—like SCADA and AMI) is long and varied, and here at Water Efficiency, we plan to continue to expand our coverage and understanding of this most fundamental building block of our new technology future.
In fact, we hope that as you take a spin through this issue and the rest of our 2010 line up, you’ll see that we are committed to delivering you the most up-to-date information about the all the latest strategies, equipment, tools, and technologies available for the water conservation professional and all of us committed to promoting water efficient practices. And while the hard-copy version of our magazine will still faithfully arrive in your mailbox, we will continue to explore new and innovative ways to provide you with the high-quality content you’ve come
to expect, whether it’s online, in the mail, or on your smart phone.
I’m proud to announce that we have just debuted the first of Forester Media’s iPhone applications: Waterprint. Waterprint is a one-of-a-kind (free) iPhone application that calculates how much water is imbedded in your daily activities, including what you wear, eat, and drink. We’ve designed this application with a simple-to-navigate interface, and have provided the Web links and other resources, so that you can track down exactly where those waterprint totals come from. We’ve all heard about carbon footprints, but it’s just as important to be aware of how much water is used for every product we buy and every activity we’re engaged in. Our goal with Waterprint is to empower users to reduce their own water footprints. To learn more, go to www.waterprint.net.
Author's Bio: Elizabeth Cutright is the Editor of Distributed Energy magazine and Water Efficiency magazine
Author's Bio: Elizabeth Cutright is the Editor of Water Efficiency magazine and Distributed Energy magazine