Black & Veatch: Data analytics, resilience and sustainability drive water discussion

Collecting data from our water systems is one thing. Acting on that information is game-changing, and a Black & Veatch survey shows that the water space is taking note.

Underscored by the survey’s finding that two-thirds of the industry respondents are exploring or have deployed smart technologies in their water plans, digital water – the reality that data holds unprecedented potential to make our water supply safer, more abundant and efficient – is gaining traction among global water providers. Perpetual concerns about ever-graying infrastructure notwithstanding, water has turned increasingly complex as data and analytics drive the discourse and coastal threats of extreme weather events test water resilience, according to Black & Veatch’s newly-released 2018 Strategic Directions: Water Report.

The report, which covers everything from data and resilience planning to rate structures and asset management, features insights gleaned from Black & Veatch’s annual survey of more than 500 industry leaders. The report explores how water and wastewater utilities both regionally and worldwide are deploying innovative solutions to resilience, regulatory and sustainability hurdles – many posed by climate change.

At the forefront is data’s role in the evolving water space as utilities increasingly seek ways to manage and act on data they’re already collecting through legacy SCADA and other monitoring devices. One of the many examples cited in the report shows how a Midwestern water utility turned to data analytics to manage and visualise information that gave operators new insights into the health of their assets. Such views can not only help operators take near-term steps to resolve leaks or make repairs, but they also can help inform longer-view planning and capital investment, putting the utility back in charge of data it’s been collecting all along.

“Water is a high-tech proposition, with data analytics playing a widening role in giving our industry actionable insights that make our systems more efficient, enhance customer service and extend the life-cycle of expensive assets,” said Cindy Wallis-Lage, President of Black & Veatch’s water business. “Data performs because it informs.”

As the industry’s capital costs continue their ascent and regulation turns murky, the exhaustive report also examines other contemporary, weighty topics, from the nexus of power and water to insights about water conveyance. Innovations in alternative water supply and smart water solutions also get the spotlight, as do accounts of the United States (U.S.) military’s grappling with water issues complicated by limited funding, regulatory pressures and aging infrastructure. The report also tells the story of regional pushes to handle everything from harnessing and storing water in drought-prone areas to vulnerabilities of water systems in coastal and other areas challenged by wet weather events.

“As the water industry reaches a turning point with digitalisation, it also is focusing on sustainability, value and innovation on a number of important fronts,” John Chevrette, President of Black & Veatch’s management consulting arm, added. “Questions about water, including who will pay for much-needed repairs and upgrades, have grown increasingly complex, though water industry leaders domestically and abroad are innovating at an unprecedented pace, reimagining and reinventing how technology is used to solve ubiquitous challenges involving this resource.”

Other key findings include:

  • Maintaining or expanding asset life again was chosen as the most significant sustainability issue for utilities
  • Only 14 per cent of the survey respondents are using their SCADA device data to predict asset failure, as well as to monitor system health and other operational purposes
  • 28 per cent of respondents say they’re using cloud-based software across all parts of their business, up from just 10 per cent last year
  • Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents view resilience on a project-by-project basis, suggesting a near-term approach that may neglect benefits of systems integration and long-term effectiveness
  • Roughly six in 10 respondents believe their distribution mains are in most need of repair or replacement because of age
  • More than 90 per cent of survey participants have adopted, or are considering, rate increases to sustain financial capacity.