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Reframing Asia’s Water Industry with Digital Transformation

Digital transfornation

In addition to environmental and social challenges, water utilities in Asia Pacific are faced with the complexities of non-revenue water, underdeveloped or ageing water infrastructure and growing expenditure.

Digital transformation offers the water industry an opportunity to provide reliable and sustainable water supply by optimising distribution systems, treatment efficiency and asset management.

Asia Pacific’s water networks are getting more complex and extensive. Rapid urbanisation, climate change, non-revenue water, underdeveloped or ageing water infrastructure are some issues regional water leaders are addressing.

The issues translate into action items such as planning and operating networks, optimising the performance of existing supply systems, and handling water demand.

To address these action items, water leaders have progressively adopted new technologies and smart network systems to assess infrastructure lifecycle possibilities. Digital transformation allows water utilities to explore new ways to enhance productivity and achieve planning and operations efficiency in stormwater, water and wastewater management.

On the water supply side, technologies – such as data analytics, advanced robotics and asset management tools – are alerting water utilities of potential equipment replacement and rehabilitation issues in advance. Taking preventative actions before equipment failure, minimises infrastructure lifecycle costs while optimising infrastructure use. At the same time, the preventative measures ensure network reliability. On the water consumption side, smart meters, for example, are encouraging conservation efforts as they provide users with data which may influence their water consumption.

One system, many possibilities

By creating digital twins, regional water utilities have an opportunity to take insights to a more advanced level. A digital twin is an integrated digital representation of physical assets which provides historical, current and predictive analysis in near real-time. What separates the digital twin from a traditional model is that the twin is in constant dialogue with its physical counterpart through combining information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) enabling its users to simulate and scenario options before actioning them in the real world.

For a water utility, a digital twin offers the prospect of helping enhance customer experience, without increasing bills to fund improvements, by optimising performance of existing assets and increasing the efficiency with which they are operated and maintained.

A digital twin supports this by facilitating systems thinking – combining multiple internal and external data sources across the asset base with predictive analytical techniques served through multiple functional views. This enables improved insights that support better decisions, leading to more desirable outcomes in the physical world.

Digital twins can support Asia Pacific water leaders in many areas. Some possibilities include:

Water quality and supply: Digital twins can support water quality and supply teams by integrating weather and raw water quality data with asset availability from SCADA across the network – creating a predictive view of operating scenarios and performance deterioration; and root cause identification allowing users to intervene before a reactive event occurs.

Biosolids management: Digital twins can also be tapped on to take near real-time condition performance data from critical sludge treatment assets to predictively determine maintenance activities; giving biosolids teams the ability to plan for alternative disposal or planned operating regimes to ensure maximum generation capability.

Future planning: Outside of the operational phases of the asset lifecycle, digital twins dynamically inform the decisions that Asia Pacific water leaders can take in view of priorities such as carbon sustainability, improved catchments and resilience planning for the availability and carriage of water.

Regional progress

Many regional utilities are identifying the components of a digital transformation programme to address their social and economic development requirements. Some are designing systemic strategies to meet water resilience and sustainability goals.

Developed markets, like Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, are assessing how digital transformation can extend the infrastructure lifecycle of their assets and achieve predictable performance. For developing countries, like the Philippines and Indonesia, the opportunity is in deploying advanced analytics to provide enhanced intelligence for more effective water network management.

In Australia, the Intelligent Water Networks (IWN) Programme is a partnership between Victoria’s peak industry association, VicWater, various water utilities and Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

The objective of IWN programmes is to investigate new technologies and innovations that meet common challenges such as population growth, ageing infrastructure and climate variability in a more efficient manner.

Its Big Data and Analytics Programme helps Victoria’s water utilities, like Lower Murray Water and East Gippsland Water, transition into ‘digital utilities’ by exploring new and emerging technologies designed to better manage and integrate data.

Lower Murray Water and East Gippsland Water piloted a solution to demonstrate aggregation and analysis of data from distributed assets, including smart meters and sensors, with web-based visualisation of this data. Key business outcomes include saving time and reducing human errors as the digital platform was able to incorporate data from different sources, perform calculations on the data and use the data in reports and dashboards. The utilities benefitted from faster and better decision making on issues and assets as the platform provided a single point for access of real time data, organised it and provided self-service visualisation tools.

In Singapore, National Water Agency PUB is tapping on digital technology to extend water conservation efforts and enhance operational efficiencies with its Smart Water Meter Programme. Under the first phase, 300,000 smart water meters will be installed from 2021 in seven locations, across new and existing residential, commercial and industrial premises.

These smart water meters will collect water consumption information and communicate back to PUB daily. With ready access to daily water usage data and alerts to leak and abnormal usage, consumers will thus be empowered to take proactive steps to manage or reduce their water consumption. For PUB, the data collected can help to optimise water demand management.

PUB’s Integrated Validation Plant (IVP) at Ulu Pandan is another example of how technology can be integrated into water infrastructure to minimise risks posed by extreme weather.

The IVP won the Water/Wastewater Project of the Year Award at the 2018 Global Water Awards in Paris and was also the winner of the Engineering Project Category for the Institution of Engineers Singapore (IES) Prestigious Engineering Achievement Awards 2019.

The objective of the IVP is to provide operational experience for treatment processes planned in the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant (TWRP). Its role is to validate the technologies and operating processes suitable at TWRP, with a focus on energy efficiency, ease of operation and maintenance, robustness of technologies, and reliability of treated water quality for NEWater production.

TWRP is a core component of Singapore’s S$6.5 billion Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) Phase 2 project, a used water superhighway currently under construction to meet Singapore’s used water collection, treatment and disposal needs.

The engineering innovation in the IVP includes a flexible design to operate different treatment processes to optimise water quality and energy usage as well as a compact design to fit within the confines of the existing Ulu Pandan WRP.

The IVP incorporates a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that supports full automation. Sensors and instrumentation at the plant help PUB understand how the plant is performing in real time. Knowledge of the treatment performance enables automated control systems that are regulated by programmable logic controllers. In addition, real-time condition monitoring sensors installed on operational assets enable an understanding of when changes need to be made in any units of the equipment and scheduling them for timely maintenance. By adopting full automation to reduce labour requirements, the IVP runs autonomous operation through digital application.

Countries in Asia Pacific, with vastly different social and economic requirements, are well positioned to adopt digital transformation.

By facilitating right-sized, data-driven investments, digital transformation offers Asia Pacific utilities the opportunity to address their different geographical, political and social perimeters, legacy infrastructure systems and technological maturity. SEI 

About the authors

James Currie is managing director of Black & Veatch in Australia.

Andy Kwok is Managing Director of Black & Veatch Asia North.

William Yong is Managing Director, Southeast Asia, Water, Black & Veatch

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