Outdated water management infrastructure is threatening to “spiral out of control” as the global population grows, says digitalisation and automation technology company Schneider Electric South Africa product manager Jaque Mare, who claims that smart pumping technology is the solution.
According to the United Nations, the global urban population is projected to increase to about 6.2-billion by 2050, with 90% of global urbanisation occurring in Africa and Asia.
Mare says the subsequent demand for water will be considerable. Water and wastewater utilities and service providers will, at local and national level, be responsible for meeting this demand while driving down costs and modernising infrastructure.
“It’s a tall order many countries face, including South Africa. The good news is that billions of rands worth of investments in water, and wastewater research and development, are driving forward an era where new technologies provide water in an energy efficient and enhanced manner.”
These technological advancements will improve the efficiency of key processes such as water extraction, purification and transportation. Mare says energy plays a critical role in these overall efficiency improvements because it is needed for extraction, transformation, water resource delivery, reconditioning and release.
He estimates that as much as 8% of the energy produced globally is used to lift groundwater, pump it through pipes and treat it.
Mare believes that smart pumping can address the high cost and energy use challenges that privately and municipality-managed facilities face.
Such intelligent pumping systems combine greater efficiencies with sensors and software to regulate and control flow or pressure. This leads to energy savings, increased equipment lifetime and maintenance-cost reductions.
Mare says to understand smart pumping, one should start with the components.
Water pumps, for example, are a vital cog in the smart pumping system and can improve energy efficiency if optimised, he notes.
However, he says the larger physical infrastructure of pumping operations, which include electric motors and variable-speed drives (VSDs), should also be taken into account. When the pump, drive and motor are all considered as the complete drive module, it can provide true efficiency gains.
Smart pumping systems are distinguished from traditional systems because the components can automatically share information to improve efficiency. This better monitoring of the energy attributes enables pump owners to optimise energy use.
“Industrial Internet of Things technology incorporates machine learning and Big Data technology, harnessing sensor data, machine-to-machine communication and automation technologies.Automation solutions have proven their effectiveness and the benefits of reducing energy and resource consumption,” Mare adds.
For example, a VSD can recognise the levels of activity for motors and pumps – from idle and partial load conditions to full capacity and overload – and automatically make the proper adjustments to ensure that a pump operates as close to its best efficiency point and at improved motor efficiencies.
“Therefore, in a smart pumping environment, the ability to determine, monitor and even take corrective measures can be programmed into the complete drive module solution. This enables operators to run the pumps at near best efficiency point throughout the lifecycle of pumping systems,” Mare explains.
However, to gain the most from smart pumping, utilities and service providers should consider introducing energy consumption measurement devices into the water and wastewater architecture. Data from energy meters allow for improvements in energy efficiency and for proactive, low-cost maintenance.
The deployment of modern controllers with high intelligence for improved security, reduced commissioning time and better regulation compliance should also be considered.
Moreover, smart visibility should be integrated into the network of pumping systems through the deployment of remote monitoring, which also reduces maintenance and energy costs.