Thursday, 10 May 2018 03:18

Smart tech helps SA Water manage water network


South Australian utility SA Water says it has proven the role of advanced smart technology in managing an underground water network, to proactively identify and repair potential leaks and breaks before they escalate and affect customers and commuters.

According to SA Water, the first stage of its smart water network integrated more than 400 sensors across the Adelaide Central Business District, preventing 15 water main breaks or leaks since monitoring and collecting data began in July 2017.

Ahead of the Ozwater’18 conference in Brisbane, the smart network program’s architect, SA Water’s Manager of Water Assets, Dr Helen Edmonds, said the deployment was the largest in Australia.

“The combination and volume of sensors installed across the water network in Adelaide hasn’t been seen before, and is delivering outcomes and learnings that will be applicable right across the country,” she said.

“As engineers, we’ve been immersed in rich data that’s helping us make informed decisions, but as South Australians striving to deliver a world-class service for our customers, we’re making vital inroads to delivering a better customer experience.

“Although our network performance is among the best in Australia, we know that any water main break or service interruption has an impact on our customers, and we want to reduce that as much as possible.

“Identifying a potential leak and intervening has been hugely rewarding, but there’s also been a sense of accomplishment in analysing the data and understanding the immediacy of some sudden ruptures that didn’t offer any warning signals.”

Edmonds said the data was collected through 305 acoustic leak detection sensors, 34 pressure sensors of which 23 are transient loggers, 11 flow meters, three water quality monitors, and 100 smart meters on customer connections. The information is transmitted over long-term evolution and narrow band technologies to an analytics platform, at 5 to 15 minute intervals.

The acoustic sensors — or accelerometers — cover an average range of 150 metres and monitor around 50% of the water main network in the Adelaide CBD, with a focus on cast iron pipes in areas where the potential customer impact of a break is greater.

“The music of the network tells us a story, but the art and science of this combine in the algorithms we’ve built to filter an evolving leak from typical water usage sounds and the background noise of a busy city street,” Edmonds said.

She said insights had been gathered on the forces within and outside the network that could contribute to faults, such as pressure transients arising from customer activity.

“One of the transient loggers detected a recurring event with a consistent hydraulic character, happening on the same day and time, every week, and it turned out to be the result of a large building’s fire service being tested.

“Having this information meant we could work together with the building owner to calm the weekly testing process, and also with the technical regulator to amend design standards for future builds.

“Importantly, it means the customer will have far less chance of a water main break right outside their building, and the interruption this would cause their operations.”

An online portal allows smart meter customers to monitor their own water usage, but Edmonds said significant benefits had been realised by SA Water staff identifying abnormalities in customers’ consumption.

"We were able to alert a customer to 100 litres a minute being lost by a faulty float valve constantly refilling their building’s header tank, and the excess water just overflowing into the sewer. Left undetected until their next bill, the water loss alone in that case would have cost over $15 000 a month.”

Edmonds said the implementation had been so successful that further rollouts were planned later this year across both water and wastewater networks.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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