Digitalisation and automation are two key emerging focus areas in India’s water sector. Digital solutions are being employed across segments such as urban drinking water, wastewater and rural water to aid smart measurement, network monitoring, non-revenue water (NRW) reduction, leakage detection, etc. The next phase of asset modernisation and upgradation is essential in order to keep up with the evolving standards for the quality and reliability of plants and machinery and to enhance the resilience of networks. In particular, technologies such as digital twin hold strong promise in areas such as design collaboration, integrated project controls and digitised asset management, empowering stakeholders to make informed decisions, enhance governance and manage control over water networks. Recently, Indian Infrastructure, in association with Bentley Systems Inc., organised an event on Digitalisation of Water Infrastructure, where key representatives from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, water network owners/operators, state municipal corporations, contractors and consultants shared their views on the adoption of technologies across different aspects of water supply operations, major benefits and challenges. Key takeaways from these discussions are given below…
The ultimate goal of every water utility is to operate at a high level of efficiency, productivity and serviceability, but the journey is marked with several challenges. A primary issue is striking a balance between relying on short-term fixes of ageing infrastructure assets versus long-term strategy and solutions, all this while keeping the infrastructure operational.
At present, the national average NRW level in India is around 20-30 per cent, and for some utilities, it reaches as
high as 50 per cent. These high levels of NRW are due to various factors, including ineffective systems (old or ill-maintained installations), inadequate billing and collection systems/mechanisms, water theft and/or leakage, lack of real-time leakage detection systems for supply lines, inaccurate metrology, lack of pressure monitoring at tail-end nodes, and lack of real-time quality monitoring system.
The government and water utilities are actively working towards addressing these challenges. Over the past few years, the Indian water industry has witnessed a growing penetration of technology solutions in network management. These include smart metering, mobile applications, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and remote monitoring. Automation has emerged as one of the important pillars of water resilience. Smart water solutions can reduce NRW through real-time monitoring, leading to a significant reduction in transmission and distribution losses. Automation techniques also play a crucial role in harnessing data from different sources, providing early warnings in areas such as water quality, abnormal consumption, reliable fault detection and optimised customer interactions. There has been an increased emphasis on building smart water supply infrastructure with centralised and automated operations and control.
Need for digitalisation
Utilities rely on trusted data to make decisions to meet service-level benchmarks. Any discrepancy in the quality of the available data can incur significant costs for the utilities. In the Indian water sector, many administrators and engineers work in an environment with limited data availability.
Digitalisation, at the core, addresses the issue of the non-availability of data and allows utilities to make decisions on a real-time basis that are aligned with specific goals. It is a smart approach to water management, in terms of the adoption of smart gadgets, tools and hardware. It provides accurate data for making optimal decisions, both short-term operational decisions that need to be taken on a day-to-day basis and long-term strategic decisions concerning new investments and infrastructure development.
Digitalisation offers great value in several areas, including energy efficiency and control, life extension of assets, and disaster response and management. On the delivery side, it improves customer handling and billing, and the management of the overall customer interface.
Digital twins for digital water
Often, utilities struggle to effectively utilise available and routinely collected data because it is isolated in disconnected IT solutions. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical asset, process or system. It can help utilities effectively process the data to improve decision-making, efficiency and services.
Currently, water utilities use a host of disconnected data sources for managing water infrastructure. These include engineering technology, such as hydraulic and asset performance models; information systems such as computer-aided design, geographic information systems, customer relationship management, maintenance and billing systems; and operational technology such as SCADA, automatic meter reading and advanced metering infrastructure, various sensors, and programmable logic controller control systems.
A digital twin typically involves the integration of the aforementioned technologies and is continuously updated. This is a key feature of digital twins that differentiates it from traditional static 2D/3D models. Ultimately, it supports the planning, design, construction and operations of smart water networks. Utilities can leverage digital twins to obtain accurate and reliable data, enabling them to perform what-if analyses and make informed decisions throughout the lifecycle of a water system.
Digital twins enable utility workers to visualise an asset, check its status and perform analyses and simulations. This enables them to better understand the past and current performance of their water systems while also helping them predict future performance in the virtual world before committing substantial investments. Moreover, digital twins provide utilities with actionable insights that help identify failures before they occur.
Digital twins provide benefits to all stakeholders in the water value chain, including public-private partnership and engineering, procurement and construction contractors responsible for operating and maintaining the system; owner/operators (urban local bodies, public health engineering departments, water boards, etc.) who would be seeking a comprehensive view of their assets and their conditions throughout the asset lifecycle; project design and management consultants, who can adopt digital twin at an early stage to view designs and simulate events on the platform; and system integrators, typically enterprise systems, which require an integrated view for the ease of understanding and analysing near real-time data compared to design data.
Every day, water utilities face several challenges in providing reliable, resilient and affordable water systems. Technology can play a vital role in helping them meet their short-term and long-term goals. Whether it is improving operational efficiencies and service levels or extending the lifespan of ageing assets through better, faster and more informed decision-making, digital twins have the potential to be veritable game changers.