There's something in the water: Connecting Wiltshire to the IoT

The residents of Tidworth, a town in South West England are drinking from ‘the smartest water network in the UK’, according to Veolia.

The European water firm is currently pulling data off its water network in Tidworth, Wiltshire - a 100km water main and sewer which serves 15,000 people – so it can monitor water quality, detect leaks and simultaneously send notifications directly to field workers’ smartphones and tablets.

The ability to use sensors to monitor water quality may not appear ground-breaking in the water industry; but what makes this network truly ‘smart’ is a combination of compatible sensors and software that communicate, analyse data and fix problems automatically - all within a centralised platform.

While water firms typically use SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) telemetry to send alerts when a fault occurs, Veolia is using Aquamatix’s WaterWorX platform to eliminate the need for a systems integrator and to avoid being locked in to a bespoke solution that cannot scale as Internet of Things technology advances.

SCADA systems tend to be supplied by a single vendor, like Schneider, but Veolia uses technology from several vendors; putting the network at the centre of its system topology. Tidworth’s 1,500 sensors, which monitor water quality every fifteen minutes, pool data centrally rather transferring it between remote devices, databases and control rooms across its radio network.

The IT team is also installing microphones throughout the network so it can detect the dripping of leaky pipes.

For example, in one instance, water data is sent to the cloud-based WaterWorx platform to analyse active chlorine, conductivity, temperature and pressure - all of which could indicate a burst pipe.


However, despite being one of the smartest water networks around, Veolia is faced with an obstacle. Its chlorine sensor, called Kapta, needs open, wireless messaging protocols which have yet to be standardised - but when they are, Tidworth will be easily connected to the wider Internet of Things (IoT).

The implication of IoT on UK industry was hotly debated this week. Accenture predicts that if adopted on an industrial level in the UK, the IoT could increase GDP by US$531billion (£349.45 billion) by 2030. Gartner says there will be 25 billion connected “things” by 2020 and regulator Ofcom was keen to muscle in, publishing a report that assessed how it could regulate the stream of connected cars, phones and even homes that will begin talking to each other in years to come.

Veolia’s Wiltshire-based IoT pilot shows what the manufacturing and utility industry could achieve with more clarity from self-titled Internet of Things vendors, and more investment in data analytics.

The water firm is working with IBM to use this smart network, along with other prototypes in Lyon, France, to show other water companies what they could achieve with the WaterWorX platform.

But one thing that hangs in the balance is Tidworth’s ability to communicate with other devices on a universal network.

The UK government is backing one such ‘layer’, the HyperCat initiative.The open standard, supported by BT, University of Cambridge, London City Airport and Westminster City council, allows devices to talk to each other and understand data regardless of make and location. It is being touted as an operability layer as pivotal as Sir Berners-Lee’s world-wide-web specification.

While Tidworth is not using HyperCat at present, Aquamatix is a member of the initiative and will integrate the standard into its WaterworX platform this April. Veolia will then assess how it can integrate it into its networks.

The business case

Veolia was able to shut down its Tidworth 24-hour control room in 2013 after using WaterworX to automate responses to fluctuations in data.

Laurie Reynolds, Aquamatix’s managing director and expert in water systems, says that mechanisation has long escaped water firms. Previously a Thames Water employee, Reynolds became frustrated at the lack of reuse within development and began to research the IoT when it first took off in 2009.

After weighing up prospective vendors, Reynolds went to PTC and persuaded them to let him have a license, and set about becoming a domain expert in connecting pumps, pipes, level sensors water quality sensors – all with software that could scale. Following this, WaterWorx, based on PTC’s ThingWorx, was born.

Smarter networks will rely on higher adoption of IoT technologies and open standards like HyperCat, but at a time where funding is low, it may take a while before it becomes the norm. However IBM and Veolia will continue to deploy smarter networks in cities around Europe, showcasing the reductions in time and cost overheads for business.

“We’re focused on delivering smart networks to all of the UK,” Naisbett says. “Because it has never been done, firms are struggling to make the business case. Veolia is trying to make that business case.”

Image credit: Flickr/Next

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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