The Utility of the Future Series

In this six-part series, Travis Smith, Joseph Dryer and Zachary Barkjohn look at the social, environmental, and economic pressures facing utilities. They will share their vision of the future using current technology, integration, and methods to break from a vicious financial cycle to become a sustainable utility.

In part one, the authors provide an overview of how utility intelligence is the result of implementing a smart utility network.

Utilities provide life-sustaining services at an amazing value. Consider the cost of receiving four tons of material and the cost to remove four tons of dirty material. If the price was only $6-18 combined, most people would be stunned, yet water utilities do it every day. 1,000 gallons of water is 8,340lbs (or a little over four tons), and the average rate for 1,000 gallons including sewer disposal is $11.25 dollars1. This is an incredible value.

While providing water for public consumption, utilities also ensure their communities are protected from fires by maintains storage, pressure and flow capabilities to the US Fire Administration standards. All of this is done while managing millions of dollars of assets, daily operations, providing customer service, and ensuring sustainability for the future. It is a daunting task that is further constrained with issues that cannot be controlled, such as climate change, population growth/shift, industrialization, rising energy costs, and increasing irrigation demands. Utilities also face drivers of their business such as the desire for additional transparency to the users, rate pressures, aging infrastructure, budget pressures, and regulatory compliance changes.  

Utilities have dedicated staff with tremendous experience and wisdom about their system and across the water cycle. They are aware of the challenges and technology available to them. One challenge this workforce faces is determining the best solutions, technology and tools that are available and turn it into actionable items to service their community and provide revenue capture, cost reduction, risk mitigations, customer service, and asset optimization to yield a financial and environmentally sustainable watershed and utility.  

As we look to the future, we need to explore the means to apply and integrate technological developments and skills sets that provide tools to unlock the hidden potential with utilities. Starting with the end goal of creating to be more resilient, transparent, efficient, and sustainable, utilities need to create a set of tools and perspectives for intelligence to be comprehensive and flexible.

With utility intelligence, we can address tasks easier, more effectively, and better adapt to change. Utility intelligence (see figure 1) is a toolset intended to empower engineering, customer service, operations, maintenance, accounting, planning, management, and consultants in all five domains (see figure 2) – usage, hydraulics, quality, sustainability, and asset management – with the right data, at the right time, and meaningful user interfaces to provide actionable results. Utility intelligence is the result of implementing a smart utility network across the water cycle and at all six layers of smart water – assets, measurement, monitoring, trending, modeling, and control (see figure 3).

[1] 2019 Water and Wastewater Rate Survey, April 2019, American Water Works Association and Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc., pages 26, 48