IoT in Industry and Utilities Will Go Mainstream in 2018

To boost efficiency and reduce the consumption and demand for both water and energy, information is needed

By Gary Wong

No doubt we saw the Internet of Things (IoT) gain steam in 2017, but as the calendar rolls over to 2018, I expect to see a wholesale and mainstream adoption of IoT by virtually every industry and utility that can benefit from it.

One utility sector I know very well is water and it’s a prime example of how industries will benefit from IoT. In 2018, I believe that rising power prices, new environmental regulations, (despite the current climate in Washington, D.C.), and fresh budget constraints will spur utilities — and large industrial users of water — to start looking to IoT.

By fine-tuning existing processes or leveraging predictive analytics, large water consumers will find ways to reduce their costs and carbon footprints without major retrofits or new hardware investments. While water utilities and large water consumers have employed SCADA systems and automation for years to control their operations, this shift to digital analytics in 2018 will mark a fundamental turning point in the industry.

Water utilities will literally be able to accomplish more with less. Let’s look at some of the ways that IoT — through the use of sensors and other smart devices at the edge — can help. The first and most obvious way IoT can help is through cutting energy. Typically, energy accounts for 30 percent of their operational expenses, an amount second only to personnel. Often, water utilities are the largest or second-largest consumers of energy in their regions. The energy consumed annually in treating and distributing water and wastewater in the U.S. accounts for around 3 percent of national energy consumption.

Energy savings come about in indirect and surprising ways. Some techniques of reducing power purchased from the grid — reducing the number of active assets at a site, repairing failing equipment, or harvesting bio gas for internal operations — are straightforward. The AORTA (Asset and Operations Real Time Analytics) initiative at English utility Thames Water is part of an overall effort to optimize the overall efficiency and energy performance of its water and wastewater infrastructure. Over a five-year period, the utility anticipates it will save multiple millions in Euros.

But what about leakage control? Reducing leaks is a cost-effective way to reduce water waste, and we’ll see more municipalities and industrial water users pursue this in 2018. In fact, research shows fixing leaks is the cheapest way to boost water supplies. In many cities, 30 percent or more of the potable water prepared by a utility never makes it to customers, due to pipe leaks. Imagine if your company lost 30 percent of their product on the way to the market.

Maynilad, the privatized water authority for Manila, serves millions of customers over 540 square kilometers; it manages nearly 7,500 kilometers of water and sewer pipes and 19 reservoirs. In 2007, nearly 20 percent of the citizens in its service territory could not even get service, roughly half did not have 24-hour service, and over half did not have sufficient pressure.

As part of an operational overhaul, the company enacted a program to monitor metrics like water flows while mapping consumption against its geographies. By 2013, it was servicing 94.7 percent percent of its customers, 97 percent had 24-hour service, and 99 percent had sufficient pressure. At the same time, Maynilad recovered 640 million liters of treated water, reducing losses by 27 percent while increasing its customer base from 6.4 million to 9 million.

Halifax Water in Canada, meanwhile, manages water and wastewater for about 325,000 residents. The water distribution network consists of 1300km of pipe and they manage water loss in real-time, which saves 38 million liters of water per day in real losses. Through aggressive data management, Halifax Water has reduced leakage of potable water, a direct savings of almost $600,000 per year.

Industry is getting into the act, too. IBM employed analysis of real-time operational data and environmental data like local weather and dew point to reduce water consumption in its semiconductor fabrication facility in Burlington, Vt., by 27 percent at a time when it also increased the overall capacity of the facility by 30 percent. Similarly, the Seattle Mariners, a major league baseball team, cut consumption 10 percent over three years, or 2 million gallons, through “hard” upgrades like low flow toilets and “softer” ones like better data monitoring.

The above examples make it clear that energy and water are interdependent and their uses are bound to each other. To boost efficiency and reduce the consumption and demand for both water and energy, information is needed, and we’ll see more and more of this information provided by IoT in 2018.

Gary Wong, P.Eng., is Principle for Global Water Industry, OSIsoft. He may be reached at