Water trends in drinking water network management: Efficiency and sustainability

In 2024, drinking water networks are looking at digital transformation processes that will foster greater management efficiency and sustainability. In this article, we explore the latest technology trends that are shaping the water management landscape, highlighting innovative advances that promise to revolutionize the sector. These trends include the implementation of digital twins for holistic overviews and advanced simulation, the adoption of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for accurate consumption monitoring, the pivotal role of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in strategic decision-making based on spatial data and, last but not least, leak detection technology, which is key to reducing losses and enhancing water network efficiency.

In 2024, digital twins will continue to be a crucial tool for decision-making in drinking water networks. Their ability to provide a comprehensive overview of the system and simulate different scenarios enables utilities to provide responses to a variety of circumstances.

Digital twins require large amounts of physical system data to function properly. They rely on sensors and information provided by digital tools such as SCADAs, GIS and CMMS. This presents a challenge for utilities in consolidating and standardizing information.

Digital twins 

Sensors in water distribution systems have facilitated the implementation of digital twins, increasing resilience and providing benefits such as rapid adaptation to different circumstances. In addition, they boost operational and planning efficiency as they give a holistic vision of the system, enabling informed decisions that reduce energy costs and optimize hydraulic parameters. They also improve citizen-oriented management by anticipating potential supply disruptions and adapting operations to cater for essential users, such as hospitals.

In addition, digital twins promote sustainability, which is a key concept in 2024, as they raise awareness of responsible water use by providing detailed information on water consumption.

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) 

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is set to be another key technology trend in drinking water distribution systems in 2024, setting the bar in the 4.0 revolution of the urban water cycle, which is people-centric in its approach. Unlike Automatic Meter Reading (AMR), AMI goes a step further as it carries out remote reading, but also integrates and processes information using big data technologies, making extensive use of digital platforms.

This disruptive technology brings direct improvements, as it provides value-added services such as leak detection and demand prediction through algorithms. This, in turn, facilitates more efficient, sustainable water management. Ideally, AMI needs to handle consumption data on an hourly basis to achieve this and it needs to be premium quality information.  This is where new communication protocols such as NB-IoT and 5G come into play, helping not only to obtain this data more effectively, but also enabling more efficient management of meter batteries, which is essential for frequent data transmission in smart metering. This efficiency can reduce operational incidents and therefore bring benefits to the end customer.

The ability of AMI to generate significant amounts of information has led water utilities to recognize the value of measuring consumption beyond billing. Connecting this data to other sources of information, such as SCADA, CMMS, ERP, GIS and IoT sensors, optimizes operational processes and increases efficiency. In addition, the deployment of AMI not only enables remote reading, reducing energy consumption and the environmental impact associated with travel, but also contributes to sustainability by performing hourly water balances, reducing the volume of non-revenue water and detecting fraud and leaks.

Digital transformation gained speed in the water sector in recent years, and the implementation of agnostic solutions is becoming essential to integrate information from various sources, helping utilities to become more competitive and efficient. In this scenario, 5G emerges as a key player, capable of connecting millions of devices in small areas (MIoT), and thus addressing the challenge of smart metering coexisting with other smart devices.

Ultimately, AMI acts as an interface between utilities and consumers, providing detailed consumption information, encouraging responsible water use and promoting transparent communication between both parties, with services that enhance customer satisfaction.

water trends in in drinking water network management: efficiency and sustainability

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) 

In 2024, Geographic Information Systems, better known as GIS, will cement their position as essential tools for water utilities. Thanks to advances in infrastructure sensors, these systems include an increasing flow of information, making efficient, effective water management a leading trend.

GIS are capable of representing any data with a geospatial component, from satellite imagery and sensor data to vector information, enabling better-informed decisions in supply systems. For example, the location of pipelines and connections can be optimized by considering the orography of the terrain, and the layout of hydraulic elements can be planned based on topological rules and minimum requirements such as flow rate calculations.

Centralizing data and information in a single tool, thanks to GIS platforms, can boost dynamic, collaborative management. GIS experts play a crucial role in analyzing, interpreting and spatially managing data, answering the issue of how utilities can efficiently use this information.

In addition, GIS help to understand patterns and trends in supply systems, analyze data and uncover relationships, and are essential for monitoring infrastructure changes and solving problems, especially in the pursuit of sustainability. They can anticipate service interruptions and alert users, thus optimizing the response of utilities.

GIS are vital in incident management to prevent failures by collecting crucial information such as the material pipes are made of and their installation date. Their geospatial dimension can target pipeline inspections intelligently and detect branches that should not be in use.

In addition, Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology is set to play a key role in the field of Geographic Information Systems. BIM improves information management related to building floor plans, and also facilitates the integration of three-dimensional (3D) data to provide more accurate, detailed representations. When combined with emerging technologies such as 3D and 5G-NR, BIM increases the understanding and analysis of infrastructure, thus contributing to more informed decision-making. In addition, remote interfacing with hydraulic elements using BIM can further strengthen water efficiency, enabling more agile, effective resource management.

In short, GIS will become crucial cornerstones in the advanced management of drinking water networks, harnessing their synergies with new technologies to improve efficiency and decision-making.

Leak detection 

Real and apparent losses of drinking water in water networks are an environmental and economic problem, since every liter of water that is fed into the network to be consumed must be collected, made drinkable and pumped through thousands of meters of water networks. It is also important to detect and repair water leaks in a hydraulic network in a short period of time, as these could turn into larger breaks and cause damage to civil infrastructures or even affect normal service continuity and pressure at the end point of consumption.

Therefore, continuing to promote and improve leak detection through technology is one of the key trends in drinking water networks in 2024. This will require the consolidation of new technologies that go beyond sectorization, such as mathematical models and algorithms, acoustic leak detection and centralizing data on a single platform. These technological advances, based on sensors and communications, will provide more efficient water resource use, which is the ultimate goal of the water cycle.

Locating leaks through big data analysis, using mathematical models and algorithms in data processing, is an alternative to sectorization, which is an expensive option. This method is also more accurate, as it reduces the inspection area in which the leak is located. This requires access to data to develop the mathematical model (GIS, demand distribution and operational control), installing flow meters at strategic points and monitoring night-time users. This practice obviously adds considerable value. However, utilities need to implement advanced software to be able to define the network area where the possible leaks are located to obtain optimum results.

A further step in this practice is detecting leaks by installing acoustic loggers at specific points in the drinking water network. The data generated through these electronic devices is fed into water efficiency management platforms to locate leaks and improve decision-making, and this is a trend that will grow in 2024 thanks to advances in telecommunications infrastructures.  

In short, these trends point to a future where water management will not only be smarter and more efficient, but also more resilient and sustainable, in a context in which innovation and digital transformation are inextricably linked. 

Idrica’s Water Technology Trends 2024 report provides a comprehensive list of trends for the industry, including the one we will be seeing in drinking water networks. 

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