Improving Supply

Emerging trends and future outlook for water network management

Rapid urbanisation and steady economic growth are increasing the demand for water and leading to a manyfold rise in the generation of sewage. The demand for wa­t­er in Class I and Class II cities is expected to inc­rease to 110,000-120,000 million litres per day by 2025.

Over the past few years, the water sector in India has witnessed some key trends and developments. There has been an increase in water supply on premises in urban India, from only 48 per cent in 1990 to more than 80 per cent in 2018. Private sector participation has also increased in providing 24×7 water supply, setting up sewage treatment plants and recycling facilities, etc.

Various water utilities and urban local bodies (ULBs) are launching projects for deploying advanced flow and pressure management systems, leak detection devices, and asset management systems. Further, advanced techno­lo­­gical solutions such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, geogra­phic information systems (GIS), satellite sur­veillan­ce and remote sensors are being extensively deployed for better management of water infrastructure.

There is also an increased emphasis on buil­ding smart water supply infrastructure with uninterrupted water supply, centralised operation and control, and recycling and reuse of was­te­water. Smart water meter deployment has also gained traction as an effective means of cutting down non-revenue water (NRW).

The central government has also played an instrumental role in the growth of the sector. It has introduced a range of programmes and sc­he­mes, such as the Namami Gange programme, the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, which aim to improve the water supply and sewerage infrastructure in the country.

Impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought in un­precedented challenges for water utilities. They are experiencing shifts in demand patterns and supply chain disruptions, managing a wo­rk­force with limited access to IT and OT infrastructure, and monitoring critical infrastructure remotely. Thus, digitalisation is becoming an in­creasingly important part of utility operations. Further, Covid-19 has emphasised the ne­ed for guaranteed access to safe water and sanitation for all. In order to achieve this objective, it is vital to in­tegrate water infrastructure management in In­dia, which is currently decentralised.

As far as water network projects are concerned, the pandemic has had an adverse impa­ct on project implementation and fund utilisation due to the mass migration of labour and the stringent lockdown. The outbreak also severely affected the finances of ULBs due to a decline in revenues, further impacting project execution.

Recent trends and advancements

The water sector has experienced greater penetration of information technology in network management practices in the past few years. Ma­ny water utilities and ULBs in the country ha­ve taken key steps to build new treatment ca­pacity, reduce water losses, improve revenue collection, deploy advanced technologies and rehabilitate old pipelines.

For modernising the distribution network, in particular, water utilities are adopting a host of automation and digital solutions such as smart metering, GIS-based asset mapping and real-time data acquisition systems. The treatment segment is witnessing growing uptake of advanced real-time measurement systems, sensor technologies and advanced SCADA systems for better asset management.

In India, metering has become a crucial co­mponent of predictive asset maintenance. It utilises the data generated to predict usage pa­tterns. With the advent of new technologies, digitalisation of the water network and process automation under initiatives such as Digital In­dia, several new smart metering solutions are emerging. Industry 4.0, cloud computing and mapping technologies are being integrated with metering solutions, leading to the launch of advanced products. In Bengaluru, for ins­tan­ce, a number of resident welfare associations have been using an application called Water­On. It allows individual households to keep tra­ck of their water usage and curb wastage. The back-end infrastructure consists of special purpose cables that connect all water me­ters and store consumption data for 45 days. Currently, pure-play software and IoT firms are designing such solutions.

Densely populated cities like Delhi are also implementing end-to-end solutions such as revenue management systems (RMSs). The key idea is to digitalise access to a log of servi­ces in the form of consistent cyclical billing, ac­c­urate billing and minimal meter-to-bill and bill-to-cash cycles. Currently, the Delhi Jal Boa­rd is executing the second phase of the RMS, RMS 2.0. The project is expected to be completed by March 2023.

Meanwhile, in a bid to improve its revenue collection mechanism, the Haryana government launched “paperless billing” for Panch­kula in July 2021. Under this scheme, reside­n­ts will get their bills through SMS. The system is expected to be scaled up across the state. It will enable arou­nd 33,000 consumers in Panchkula to pay their bills digitally.

The metering market has started witnessing increased activity over the past few years due to the rising level of water stress. Metered water connections have thus become a central aspect of water network management by ULBs. These service providers have been carrying out their metering drive by engaging private players to provide end-to-end metering solutions. Services such as supply, installation, operation and maintenance, consumer awareness, primary surveys and training of ULB personnel for using meter-related soft infrastructure are being tendered out as packages to private entities.

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is taking steps for the installation of over 275,000 smart water meters. The project is ex­pected to take about three years to complete. The smart meters are being provided by Sensus, a Xylem brand. With the installation of these meters, PMC aims to bring down its NRW by half and thus save on water and electricity costs.

In the area under the Pimpri Chinchwad Mu­nicipal Corporation (PCMC), there are 140,000 household meters and around 13,000 commercial meters at present. PCMC is currently in the process of replacing these meters with AMI meters for bulk consumers. It is also planning to adopt LoRaWAN technology for smart meters.

Meanwhile, the Chennai Metropolitan Wa­ter Supply and Sewerage Board has already star­ted installing automated meter reading-en­abled digital water meters at commercial properties across the city. The project is being implemented under the Smart Cities Mission. A software is being developed to enable automated reading and monitoring of water meters from the board’s offices. The board plans to identify ot­her commercial establishments and domestic consumers as well for the installation of smart meters in the second phase of the project.

The road ahead

While efforts to move towards digital technologies have been under way for some time, the current environment is forcing utilities to accelerate this shift. Water utilities are prioritising their IT and digital initiatives and realising the benefits of fast-tracking their digital transformation plans to be able to work remotely and effectively. New digital tools such as block­cha­in, artificial intelligence and machine learning are being explored as utilities look to transition to a digital platform.

Going forward, as most water utilities and ULBs across the country are working to im­prove their water infrastructure facilities to meet the increasing demand for water, better technologies and processes are expected to be de­v­elo­p­ed. There is a need to accelerate the pro­cess of capacity addition and improve efficiency through the adoption of new technologies and best practices. Private sector participation in the operations and maintenance of assets will also play a pivotal role in the future.

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