Optimizing SCADA Data for Operational Inefficiencies within a Water Distribution System

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October 19, 2021

As water utilities and companies continue to pursue a digital transformation of their distribution and collection systems, new technologies can help address operational inefficiencies within the distribution network itself and for planning, engineering, operations, and the public.

SCADA data is an integral part of the digital transformation from a reactive, static approach to a proactive, dynamic solution. However, raw sensor data that has not been analyzed or processed only provides limited value to a utility's system. With analysis and further processing of SCADA data, a utility can fully realize the value of their data and, in turn, use it to make more informed operational decisions, reduce labor costs, and reduce time to extract insights from the data and turn them into valuable action. 

Historically, water utilities and companies have relied on spreadsheets to get their SCADA data into one place, formatted, and then analyzed. Tasks such as creating accurate diurnal curves, managing pump performance, calculating water loss, and detecting line breaks are all tasks that typically require months of work, and resources, that are frequently outsourced. 

Utilities can now streamline these processes using various analytical tools with today's leading digital operational solutions. As a result, data that was once inaccessible and siloed within different departments in an organization is now freely available to all stakeholders. Specifically, utilities can increase operational efficiencies by: 

  1. Accurately and quickly identifying breaks, leaks, and anomalies within a distribution system so that field crews can best respond. 
  2. Decreasing spending on inefficient pump operations. 
  3. Utilizing SCADA data within the hydraulic model to accurately depict how the system might be affected by an incident, and in turn, field crews can adequately respond. 

One of the most powerful components of practical analysis and the Info360 Insight solution is its ability to alert system operators to detrimental events such as pipe breaks, water quality issues, and pump failures.

Accurate identification of these issues can facilitate the quick deployment of field crews for a more intelligent allocation of capital and human resources. Analyzing historical data, forecasting trends, and analytic solutions empower operators to set up alerts for when pressure, flow, or tank levels deviate from the expected norms. Performing a zone-specific analysis helps track down the location of unintended valve openings (or closings) in the field, pump malfunctions, or potential leakage issues and is essential as small undetected leaks can result in full-on breaks and even potential sinkholes.

Infrastructure Leakage Index

By calculating the right metrics for incident detection and configuring that information to update in real-time, it becomes easier to trigger alerts sent directly to mobile devices or by email. Operators can then review potential incidents and quickly inform field crews of necessary points of maintenance. Maintenance crews can perform the needed repairs before issues get out of hand and promptly report on successful remediation. The result is a dramatically simplified workflow and improved efficiency in communicating the incident response to the field and engineering teams from the control room.

Info360 Insight

O&M applications of data can also be leveraged in an operational dashboard for monitoring pump efficiency. Typically, pump performance – specifically whether the pump can deliver the desired flow rate at the required pressure – degrades over time. However, in some cases, it is possible that identical pumps installed simultaneously in comparable environments may have different efficiency behavior. Usually, if there is a large discrepancy in volume per minute between pumps, an operator can quickly identify it. Any additional minor discrepancies that may go unnoticed across many pump stations can make these situations more complicated. These pump inefficiencies can waste significant resources, including energy, capital, and operational expenditures, if undetected.

Real-time and historical data integration

Having the right data solution can inform operators when it may be more cost-effective to replace a pump rather than continue letting it run inefficiently until it reaches the end of its useful life. This effectively informs water utility operations and proactive asset management planning for rehabilitation and replacement of pumps. Additionally, pump costs can be tracked by reconciling pump run times against energy tariffs. This insight provides operators a point of reference for pump use and the required energy costs needed to maintain responsible runtimes in line with utilities' energy requirements. 

Lastly, incorporating live and historical data into the hydraulic model can be a critical piece in responding to a system break, leak, or outage. While a SCADA digital solution can detect breaks and anomalies in the system, it cannot accurately depict the hydraulic effects on other parts of the distribution system that may not be adjacent to the outage or break itself.

Having an up-to-date hydraulic model connected to SCADA data enables engineers to look at impacts to other parts of the system, including demand loss, low pressures, reverse flows, high pipe velocities, etc.

Most importantly, having an accurate hydraulic model can help utilities spatially identify what customers could be affected by the outage, break, or even contamination using water quality models. Using a hydraulic model to make operational decisions is not recommended unless the model is up-to-date and built for extended period simulations. With an EPS model, calibration techniques can be expedited using SCADA data directly imported into the model. 

As utilities continue to collect data on an annual basis, the value of that data can be maximized using digital solutions that can provide critical hindsight and foresight to engineers, operators, and customers. However, a digital solution is only one piece of the puzzle, and an efficient approach to operating a water distribution system requires complementary internal workflows, resources, funding, and political support. Nonetheless, it's always essential for providers and customers alike to be focused on the most efficient way to provide a critical resource and taking a step towards a digital solution can help us all get there.

To fully optimize your SCADA data today, visit: Info360 Insight  

Tags: water distribution, SCADA data, operational analytics