Why was Thames Water seeing a surge in energy consumption at one pumping station?
The answer to the problem-which was costing the company thousands of pounds-was an employee, said Simon Coombs, Intelligence Hub Programme Manager with Accenture. The operator was using two pumps instead of one when problems emerged.
That little tidbit was one of a number of interesting insights into the water industry at the OSIsoft EMEA UC in Berlin. The water industry in many ways will become a prime showcase for the power of Big Data and the PI System in the coming years. Concern over water security is rising dramatically. Water utilities, however, are often strapped for cash, hemmed in by multiple governing bodies, and grappling with wringing more life out of infrastructures that can be decades old.
Thames, for instance, is experimenting with predictive analytics as part of its AORTA (Asset and Operations Real-Time Analytics) initiative. If reservoirs are running low on a hot day, but the weather forecast calls for huge storms the next, the new standard operating procedure is to endure a slight decline in reservoir levels to save energy. (Energy can constitute 30% of the operating costs of a water utility.)
The water utility-which produces enough water to fill Australia's Sydney Harbor twice over every years and accounts for around 1% of the UK's electricity usage-also leverages its PI System data to preserve the tribal wisdom of its employees.
“We must do a better job of retaining corporate memory,” said Thames' Nick Burkinshaw.
United Utilities in Northern England, meanwhile, are looking to see if analytics can help predict the most likely places for blockages in the sewer infrastructure to prioritize maintenance and prevent sudden discharge problems. Leaks can be easier to detect and repair in some ways: sudden discharges are often caused by less-easily-tracked problems like accumulating leaves. It is also conducting a project with the University of Exeter to better understand water consumption patterns by gathering data from customers at 15 minute intervals. United serves 7 million customers with 42,000 kilometers of water mains and 184 reservoirs, among other assets.
You can see the presentations by Thames and United at the respective links.