What does smart water mean to you?
Smart water is ultimately about making better decisions to support the real end goal of a utility, which is to provide clean drinking water, safely manage wastewater and stormwater networks, and so on.
Smart water, also known as digital water, has to do a lot with Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. What does the future hold for the water industry in terms of IoT, AI and big data in this sector?
We see a lot of utilities that are now collecting more and more data, thanks to the advances in IoT, but we are also seeing a lot of utilities that now don’t know what to do with that data. There is so much data available that utilities are not able to tell what is important and what is noise. A variety of technologies, including AI, can help utilities better understand what is happening within their systems and then help them decide what actions to take to achieve the best outcomes.
Can you tell us about the benefits of going digital as a strategy for the water/wastewater utilities?
Going digital has several benefits. For starters, digital information can be more easily accessed, searched, updated, and so on. Going digital provides benefits so that when team members need to know something, the data can be found quickly and it is accurate. Additionally, by connecting digital technologies (as in a digital twin), the utility can start to gain more insight into how the entire system is behaving, project into the future and so on. With decision-support tools, a digital system can evaluate the likely outcomes of actions before they are executed in the real world, which can help avoid mistakes and provide better confidence that the right actions are being taken.
What are the changes you have seen since you started out in this industry?
The most important thing we have seen is actually no change; the underlying mission of utilities remains the same – like providing clean drinking water and safely managing wastewater and stormwater. To help achieve those missions, we have seen a lot of things change in the four decades we have been doing this. The availability of data is definitely the biggest change, though – the prevalence of GIS data, the collection of SCADA and other sensors and data loggers, the amount of customer meter data, and so on. But that huge increase in the amount of data has come with some challenges, as already mentioned. Sometimes the utilities that are the most data-rich actually have the poorest insight because they are drowning in information.
How does Bentley’s technology enable the water utilities in the various sectors in terms of digital infrastructure?
Bentley provides a variety of tools that can help utilities with every lifecycle phase for every aspect of their treatment plants and piping networks. Some of those tools are oriented toward the engineers who typically are doing analysis, master planning and design. Some of the tools are oriented toward operators who are running the systems – maintenance crews and inspectors. Really anyone within a utility, from a general manager to a customer service representative, can use Bentley software to help them better understand how their system is performing now, how it will perform in the future (whether that is tomorrow or 20 years from now), and how the system will perform if they take actions. Those might be long-term actions like extending the network, mid-term changes like replacing or repairing a pipe, or immediate actions like turning on a pump.
What are the challenges that utilities have to deal with in the case of outdated or ageing infrastructure?
As any type of infrastructure ages, it becomes more prone to wear and breaks, and water utilities are no exception. But, beyond the condition of the assets themselves, many systems have challenges because the characteristics of the customers they serve have changed as well. So, a pump that was installed long ago might not operate efficiently or effectively anymore because the real-world system doesn’t match the original conditions for which it was designed. Likewise, a sanitary sewer pipe may no longer have enough capacity because of an increase in an area’s population, or because of excessive infiltration and inflow from cracks, leaky manhole covers, and so on. For addressing these types of concerns, it is important to recognize how the real-world conditions have already changed and how they may change in the future, prior to choosing a strategy for improvement.
Bentley is also into hydraulic modelling. Can you tell us how Bentley helps water utility companies and what are the scope or opportunities?
Yes, Bentley’s world-class hydraulic models like OpenFlows WaterGEMS and OpenFlows SewerGEMS are ideal for helping utilities understand what is happening throughout their systems, not just at the points that are being directly monitored. The models can help identify flows, pressures, water quality characteristics, and so on – and can also forecast those characteristics into the future. Hydraulic models are also great for decision-support because you can simulate your actions before you take them. The simulation process is especially important for utilities because the systems are complex and interconnected, and actions sometimes have unobvious and unintended consequences. The impact of making a mistake can be catastrophic, and hydraulic models can provide more confidence that the end result of the actions taken will lead to positive outcomes.
What is your recommendation to mid-size companies about ways of optimising operational and financial resilience and generating new revenue?
For most utilities, new revenue isn’t a direct goal – but reducing costs certainly is. Eliminating nonrevenue water can have an impact either way, whether from leaks or theft. And reducing that nonrevenue water can have several impacts. Every drop of water that isn’t lost is a drop of water that doesn’t need to be collected, treated or pumped. Utilities can also do a lot to operate their pumps more efficiently, which has an impact on energy costs as well as carbon footprint. And for long-term financial resilience, the best thing a utility can do is make wise decisions with regard to capital improvement planning (extending, repairing, and replacing assets within the system). In all of these cases, Bentley can provide digital tools to help utility professionals make those decisions more effectively.
Can you talk about an extraordinary project that involved using Bentley software?
One of the best examples of applying a digital twin for better outcomes is by Aguas do Porto, the utility that covers all aspects of water for the city of Porto, Portugal. They are responsible for the drinking water system, sewer collection, stormwater management, and even the water quality for the river and beaches. They were able to combine information from their GIS, SCADA, meters, laboratory data, hydraulic models, and more into a single platform. Based on their digital twin, they were able to reduce supply interruptions, decrease sewer collapses, improve reaction time for pipe bursts, repairs and more.
With advancing infrastructure what is the way forward for the next 3 to 5 years?
Continuing to go digital will definitely be ongoing for the next five years and beyond, as utilities become more mature and evolve their approach to adopt more and more capabilities of digital twins. There is a huge opportunity to collect meaningful and helpful information every time someone designs a new pipe, repairs a pump, or operates a valve. And it doesn’t require big, scary steps to move ahead – no matter where a utility is today, they can benefit from digital twin technology by better connecting and leveraging the things they already have.
What is the current focus for Bentley?
Bentley is known as the infrastructure engineering software company, and that will continue to be a key part of our portfolio to help utilities and the consultants who serve them to have the best available analyses, plans and designs. We are also putting a big focus on digital twin technology and helping owner-operators get more insight into their systems. Back to your original question, for us it is all about helping utilities make better decisions about long-term planning, capital improvements, functional designs, daily operations, and emergency response, to name a few. And it is those better decisions that really prove that a utility has a “smart water” system.