The UK has recently experienced a heatwave – London, for example, had the longest stretch of hot weather in almost 60 years. With an increase in temperature, there is an increase in demand for tap water. One area which is affected is the South West Water network, with water shortages across Sussex and up to 300 households left without tap water for five days.
But could this have been averted? Yes – it could.
It is possible with technology to better predict how people use water and monitor its quality. This technology currently exists. For example, manufacturing industries such as semi-conductor manufacturing monitor water for trace metals. The same sensors can be in a water network pipe. Furthermore, these methods of sensor detection have shown to work. Companies such as Suez have implemented smart water meters to track users water consumption in some locations in France, providing them with a better understanding of how the users consume water, and more importantly, when. IDTechEx research predicts that in the water pipe network alone, the industry of sensors will grow to over $3.5Bn by 2030. This area is a growing industry, and it is at the forefront of the Smart Cities and IoT technology areas.
What are the benefits of sensors in pipes?
Data brings understanding and understanding brings better management of a system. Collecting data on the flow in water pipes allows companies to quickly identify regions where there is an increase in demand, and as a result, lower pressure in the pipes. Utility companies can correlate their use age data with current events. They can then answer questions such as: On average, how much water is used per day in a heatwave? Who uses the most water? What times of the day is network strained?
Which sensors can be in water network pipes?
There are many different properties and measurements recorded in a water supply or a waste-water network, including the following:
- Pressure Measurements (static, stagnation, head)
- Flow levels (depth, pressure, velocity)
- Flow meters (velocity)
- Acoustic emission (leakage)
- Temperature measurements
- Chemical measurements (Ph, trace metals e.t.c)
IDTechEx research has covered and analysed all these different types of measurement sensors in the report “Sensors in the Water and Wastewater Treatment Industries 2020-2030”.
Who makes the sensors?
There are many players in the water and waste-water industries. The figure below shows some of those mentioned in the IDTechEx report, “Sensors in the Water and Wastewater Treatment Industries 2020-2030”.
When will it happen?
The need is, therefore, creating a smart water network, but it will only happen with investment. IDTechEx Research predicts there will be a change in regulation in 5-10 years. This change will push for smarter sensor-based networks. Moreover, the benefits of these systems will pay off any investment, providing a more efficient, safe, and monitored network.
What about COVID-19?
As an emerging technology, digitising and adding sensors to the water and waste-water networks may have both benefit and hindrance. Hindrance, as companies may not wish to spend large sums on new sensors, pipes, or technology, and the barriers for entry into the water and waste-water networks are already high.
The benefit of adopting sensors into the networks outweigh these barriers. There is a real need for remote monitoring. Monitoring removes the need for maintenance staff to check pipes as regularly, or to collect samples for lab monitoring. It speeds up the identification of pollution events reduces fines incurred by the water companies. It improves the efficiency of the treatment plants. It provides a better service for customers. A steep investment, but the dividends pay off for many years to come.