Future Forward: Utilities Can Use Technology to Gain Holistic Views of Entire Systems
This particular interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can listen to an audio recording of the full interview above or by visiting bit.ly/3BjUwbG.
Through her work in the water/wastewater industry, Gispanski knows the threat of climate change makes water management one of the largest challenges in the coming years. Building next-generation water and wastewater systems requires bold steps to address these issues and improve in areas such as water leakage, water quality, reliability and energy savings.
Although the water industry and utilities may have previously shied away from more-innovative solutions or been slow to adopt the movement toward digital technologies, there’s now an opportunity to accelerate this digital transformation and drive toward a zero-emissions future.
“It’s not enough to just collect information,” she explains. “Water utilities need to harness data through actionable information about their process, asset performance or energy use.”
Gispanski notes that today’s advanced digital solutions can connect multiple data sources and display easy-to-understand reports and dashboards to fully understand their systems.
“Every conversation I’m having today with utilities is around smart water applications or leveraging data to make faster, more-informed decisions to capture energy and operational efficiencies,” she adds.
Changing Disappointing Trends
In her fight against water waste and inefficiency, Gispanski comes armed with facts. She cites the World Bank, which estimates that 25-35 percent of water is lost during pumping and distribution, and she’s heard this percentage is even higher in some parts of the United States. She also notes that 2 percent of U.S. energy usage is accounted to water systems, which release 45 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.
“When you consider this and add in droughts and the water needed to put out wildfires, then investing in infrastructure starts to become really easy math,” argues Gispanski. “The beauty of digitalizing systems through data and analytics is that it can be used to address all these issues. It can be used to predict and avoid potential failings, prepare for weather events or disruptions, and even mitigate water loss.”
The Untapped Potential of Automation
According to Gispanski, too many projects are designed by traditional engineering firms and implemented by contractors who won the projects based on low bids. This approach, she notes, treats the control system more as an expense rather than an asset that will bring a return on investment.
“I would encourage utilities, and their engineering partners alike, to work together at all stages of the journey,” says Gispanski. “Look to engineering partners that can consult, design and implement a higher-quality system to provide a lot more value.”
Another key suggestion for water engineers is to create a master plan or vision document as a solid foundation for any project.
“It’s critical to have buy-in from all stakeholders on what values are worth chasing,” she adds. “You need to be asking the questions. Is your team interested in energy savings or automated reporting or advanced data connectivity among platforms like SCADA, CMMS and ERP? Do you want to ditch collecting field information on paper and instead have tablets with pre-made checklists that automatically sync to your data historian? Or would you like to be able to train your new operators on your systemwide SCADA tools in a day rather than weeks or months? All these things are possible but should be identified as clear goals.”
Looking further toward the future, she encourages engineers to consider the more-innovative technologies out there today. New solutions featuring universal automation standards decouple hardware from software and offer utilities more agility with an open approach to automation. With sustainability at the forefront, she encourages adoption of cloud-based solutions and data transparency to leverage the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“Embracing modern technology and digital solutions can help prioritize projects and mitigate risks,” explains Gispanski. “It helps the invisible become visible. Through data and trend tracking, utilities can gain insights to leaks, worn-out equipment, even energy consumption down to the device level, which means shifting from being reactive to predictive, improving asset performance and avoiding unscheduled downtimes.”