With a growing global population, set to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, getting potable water to these growing numbers of people, efficiently and sustainably, is a major challenge.
The challenge is made all the greater by the perennial problem facing water utilities – leakage of water from pipelines. For example, in the UK, of all the water distributed to consumers, 3,300 mega litres of water a day escapes through leaks.
This is a serious sustainability issue for water utilities, entailing significant costs. As well as the lost revenue, there is also the cost of treating more water, with additional energy and chemicals.
Fixing these leaks requires a better idea of their location – many leaks, particularly those in remote or rural areas, go undetected and unreported. With better visibility of where leaks are occurring, utilities can send maintenance crews to the exact site of an incident or breakdown, ensuring that repair costs and time are kept to a minimum.
One method of leak detection is through continuous flow measurement of a District Metering Area or DMA, a small cluster of users that allows monitoring of the water supplied to it. The best picture of possible losses is gained through an assessment of minimum night-time flows. This is because at night, pressure is high and consumption is low, meaning any losses will be a large proportion of the water entering the system.
This technique requires both a highly accurate flow meter as well as rapid, robust access to the flow data being captured. Water managers can use data to remotely monitor the device and network, diagnose problems and control their water networks in near real-time.
Some of the latest flow meters offer connectivity that allows this access and flow meter manufacturers are increasingly attracted by the Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) band.
One of the major technologies using this band is LoRa®. Short for Long Range, this is a low-power, terrestrial wireless platform for IoT (Internet of Things), offering two-way communications between devices and the data processing facility, low power consumption and end-to-end data security.
LoRaWAN® (Long Range Wide Area Network) is the open-source network architecture standardized for LoRa devices and developed by the LoRa Alliance.
Compared to terrestrial connectivity technologies such as 4G and fibre, LoRa offers rapid deployment over a wide area which enables leak detection with satellite enabled IoT. Because it doesn’t rely on fixed infrastructure such as cellular towers or cable, capital costs are minimised. This is ideal for water utilities who need to access data from flow meters sited in water pipes that could run for long distances through rural or otherwise difficult to access areas, many of which may have white spots for cellular coverage.
Because they consume low amounts of power, LoRa-based devices offer advantages over cellular technologies such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). These devices require frequent battery replacement, ramping up operational costs through the need to visit flow meter sites.
The benefits of LoRa can be further enhanced by adding satellite connectivity. An example is EchoStar Mobile, which uses LoRa and LoRaWAN-compatible technologies as central elements in its pan-European satellite IoT network.
The solution offers rapid two-way communication that is always available, combined with a very high data capacity. This means that however large the water distribution network, and however many flow meters need to be monitored, water managers will always be able to get the data they need to monitor and control leaks.