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Digital technologies ready to impact water industry efficiency

ABB's UK water manager for drives, Clayton Mead, shares some ideas on tackling water industry challenges in 2020 and beyond

Reduce leakage

UK networks lose about 3.3 billion litres of treated water every day through leakage – up to 25 per cent of the annual potable production. Despite investment and modernisation of the network, it’s often the smaller background leaks that are difficult to find and go unreported. Excessive supply pressures in ageing pipework are often the cause. A reduction in pressure of just 20 per cent could reduce leakage by 30 per cent. By using variable speed drives (VSDs) to control the speed of motors and thus pumps, the mains pressure can be easily controlled – a system with 5 bar in the day could be automatically reduced to 3 bar at night, using the inbuilt control, for example.

Control energy use

Cutting pressure also means reducing pumping energy costs. A pump system’s energy efficiency can be improved by up to 20 per cent by merely ensuring the VSD control philosophy is adequate. For example, emptying and filling tanks and wet wells can be carried out using level sensors to tell pumps when to stop and start, and when to run at full speed. Regular starting and stopping causes mechanical and electrical shocks that can damage equipment. Over time this results in higher maintenance costs and shorter equipment lifetime. Switching to VSD control and pumping more slowly for longer periods will reduce energy consumption and increase reliability.

Embrace digitalisation

The industry is not short of new smart sensor and control technologies capable of tapping into every parameter from flow, pressure to temperature. The problem is the industry is often presented with too much data and not enough direction on what to do with it, creating a scenario of data richness/information poverty. It is essential to talk to suppliers of smart sensor technologies and ensure that the right information, with the correct accuracy, is available to the right people in an accessible and digestible format. Concerns over cyber-security are particularly high in critical infrastructure such as the water industry. However, many manufacturers have solutions that can meet the requirements of keeping assets and data safe. All technology must be demonstrably robust. If a device can be controlled from an outside source, suppliers must be able to prove how the technology works and how it can be protected against outside interference.

Use data to increase resilience

Today, each element of a pump system – the VSD, motor, bearings and pump – can be fitted with smart sensors that provide deep insights into asset conditions. Algorithms within the sensors interpret pump system parameters and relay information about its health, via a smartphone and over the internet, to a secure, cloud-based server. Predictive analytics based on data from the smart sensors can bring about a real step-change in motor performance and lifetime. Downtime can be reduced by as much as 70 per cent, motor lifetime increased by up to 30 per cent, and energy consumption cut by as much as 10 per cent. Thanks to recent developments in smart sensor and other disruptive technologies, the water industry is far closer to achieving its goal of zero downtime than would have been thought possible even a few years ago.

Topic: Innovation
Tags: energy efficiency , pumps , drives , leakage , sensors , Data , abb

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