The Water Research Foundation (WRF) awarded Stantec the lead in a global collaboration of utility and technology experts to define the framework for the digital transformation of the water industry. The project, titled Definition of Smart Utility – How to be a Digital Utility and the Framework for an Intelligent Water System (WRF 5039), is funded by WRF with monetary support from the Great Lakes Water Authority, as well as the in-kind support of research participants. The intended outcome of this collaboration is to assist utility leaders to make better, data-driven decisions supported by an Intelligent Water Systems (IWS) framework.
“Although various research organizations, utilities, and solution providers are assisting the industry in addressing parts of the transition to a digital and smart water sector, this study will create the first IWS framework to embed digital solutions and platforms in everyday utility business practice,” said research lead and Stantec associate environmental specialist, Dr. Carla Cherchi.
Smart technologies complement traditional water infrastructure to give utilities greater awareness and control over their operations, allow for early detection of problems, address deteriorating infrastructure and workforce concerns, reduce operational costs, and improve resource efficiency. Digital technologies also enable water utilities to enhance decision-making, regulatory compliance, security, and customer benefits.
According to a 2017 study by Northeast Group across the United States, water utilities expect to invest $8.3 billion in smart infrastructure over the next 10 years to satisfy the need for modernization.
Dr. Carla Cherchi, who will serve as principal investigator for the study together with co-principal investigators Dr. Cello Vitasovic of 9D Analytics LLC and Stantec’s Prabhu Chandrasekeran, will leverage ongoing advancements in sensor, data management/analytics, and digital communication technologies throughout the 11-month WRF project. The work will focus on developing a framework, or structure, of the critical aspects pertaining to the digital transformation of water and wastewater utilities. Approximately 30 agencies from around the globe and seven data solution providers will provide technical input and critical review of the project deliverables alongside a nine-person technical advisory committee.
Four critical elements need to mutually function for a successful IWS structure: policy and governance, people, process, and technology. The framework will identify a tailored set of fundamental elements, best practices, and a transformation pathway necessary to assist organizations in becoming a smart utility. The project scope will also include the development of an online progress tool to allow utilities to more easily evaluate and validate their digital maturity.
The technologies and data platforms available to water utilities create countless benefits across various business processes. Water supply management, water treatment, water distribution, customer engagement, internal customers, wastewater collection, wastewater reclamation, and watershed protection are all components of water and wastewater utilities that can reap the benefits of digital infrastructure and concepts.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.