In 2017 South Australian Water implemented a “smart network” in Adelaide’s CBD, using smart technology to listen to the water network for leaks, reducing the impact of water main failures on customers, and maximising the life of the water supply network. The broad role out of smart sensor technology to monitor water networks isn’t extensively used around the world, in fact SA Water is the first water utility in Australia to do so on this scale.
We recently interviewed Peter Seltsikas, South Australian Water’s Senior Manager of Asset Management who shared their story at Mainstream Conference in Melbourne.
Peter, tell us about the lead up to this smart network implementation. How did you receive buy-in from the Asset management team, and how did you decide to go ahead with this particular project?
The adoption of smart technology in SA Water has been driven by our vision of delivering world class water services for a better life and by recognition that a large part of achieving that vision lies is becoming a digitally enabled utility.
To achieve our vision it is paramount that we listen and understand what our customers value and recent feedback has been that they value minimal disruption in their day from water supply issues, whether that be disruption to community as a result of water main leaks or disruption to their direct water supply.
With the asset management team having a key role in driving asset performance and therefore delivering a more reliable service we are always looking for practical, innovative ways to deliver better service. Recognizing that key to a step change in service will come from better real time understanding of network performance and moving from reactive decision making to predictive decision making, adopting smart technology to enable that shift was seen as the logical option.
What have been the benefits of this smart technology project?
For SA Water, the purpose of this project really comes down to delivering a better experience for our customers.
Although our network performance is among the best in Australia, we know that any water main break or service interruption has an impact on the community, and we want to reduce that as much as possible.
If we can fix a water main leak before it potentially turns into a break, that’s less time and cost than what could have otherwise been a major repair job. This also means a reduced impact on traffic and customers’ water supply. Since we began monitoring and collecting data in July 2017, we’ve used it to prevent 15 water main breaks and leaks.
The use of smart meters to monitor water consumption can also translate into cost savings, and this is already being realised by some of our business customers using the technology in the Adelaide CBD.
By detecting abnormalities like unexplained spikes in water use, we are then working with the customer to immediately fix the fault and stop unnecessary water loss which could be adding thousands of dollars to their water bill. We were recently able to alert a customer to 100 litres a minute being lost by a faulty float valve constantly refilling their building’s header tank, with the excess water just overflowing into the sewer. Left undetected until their next bill, the water loss alone in that case would have cost over $15,000 a month.
These outcomes and learnings would be applicable right across Australia, so we’re keen to share our results and even adapt what we’re already doing through shared knowledge.
What have been the challenges of implementing this smart technology project?
With more than 400 sensors across the Adelaide CBD and 100 smart meters on customer connections in the area, we’re receiving a lot of data all day and every day about the performance of our water network.
One of the biggest challenges I think that big data poses for the water industry, is how we use it to drive business and ultimately customer value. We know the data is available, related cost barriers are coming down and storage is no longer a concern. The issue is making sense of what you want, and what problems you want it to solve.
Developing and implementing our smart water network trial has, and continues to be, a big learning process. This is our baseline in some aspects. Therefore it’s important our employees keep developing their skills and knowledge to use and analyse all this information to identify new and better ways of doing things, as well as identify issues or problems before they impact customers and the wider community.
Ensuring the data is accurate and fit for purpose across the organisation is also important. Big data can be used for multiple purposes and so needs to be suitable for operational tasks as well as strategic analysis.
The goal would be to use the data to support better, more informed decision-making that makes operations more efficient and customer-focused.
Another challenge with the use and especially sharing of big data is security. We’ll never be in a position where there’s no risk, so it’s about balancing these risks with the benefits big data can bring.
Does this initial project form part of a larger smart technology strategy? Are there plans to adopt other smart technologies?
Following the success of the smart water network trial in the Adelaide CBD, we are now planning on rolling out the technology to other parts of the state as well as adapting it for our sewerage network.
What are your top pieces of advice for Asset Managers looking to adopt smart technologies?
Always remember that putting in smart technology is actually about building further organisational capability to deliver better customer service outcomes, that is, it’s not all about the technology! Further, given the rapidly changing smart technology environment be agile in your adoption so you can take advantage of the new and better technology as it continues to evolve.
About the Speaker
Peter Seltsikas is the Senior Manager, Asset Management for SA Water. In this role he lead the strategic, operational and capital investment planning for the Corporation’s $14bn of infrastructure assets. Peter has 20 years experience in the utility sector, first within Oil and Gas and more recently within the water industry. Peter has a strong commercial and operational background with a strategic mindset and has held many senior roles leading business through significant change.
Peter holds an Engineering Degree with Honours, a Master’s In Business Administration and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.