Know your flow / Tackling water leakages

Water leakage, and new ways to attack it with smart automation

Clean, safe and reliable water is a precious resource for which demand is rising continuously around the world. Automation products, such as drives and soft starters that can help prevent pressure shocks and flowmeters that accurately take the pulse of a water system, help minimize water leakage while also giving greater insight into the health of the network.

Like any other natural resource, water must be responsibly managed. In the water business, the term non-revenue water is used to signify water that is produced but “lost” before it reaches the customer. This wastage, often caused by system leakage, generates unnecessary additional expenses while simultaneously reducing revenues.

Water leakage can involve both slow, long-term leaks or sudden large-scale bursts, and occurs in pipes, joints, fittings and overflow service reservoirs. The causes include excessive hydraulic pressures, corrosion, erosion, thermal expansion and contraction, as well as changes in soil characteristics. Bursts in large water mains are perhaps the most obvious example of leakage, but even small leaks that go undetected can result in the loss of thousands of tons of water.

The economic costs of non-revenue water can be huge. Every liter lost to leakage must be replaced with an additional liter, meaning extra money spent on energy, labor, chemicals, etc. Similarly, wastewater leakage also has both economic and environmental costs. With leakage losses for some municipal water networks estimated as high as 40% of total flow, the resulting inefficiencies have massive impact on operating margins in terms of added costs and lost revenues.

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Combined synergies to tackle the problem

Today, new technologies and automation products can minimize water leakage. ABB has applied its knowledge of precise general performance motor control for pumps, and combined it with expertise in automation systems for accurate flow measurement, to successfully address the non-revenue water issue. The joint synergies give water utilities clear benefits and value to reduce damage to piping networks and allow early detection to identify small leaks before they become big, expensive problems.

Soft-fill function eases shocks and peaks

Water hammer and similar excessive pressure peaks are well-known causes of damage to piping systems which lead to leaks and bursts. These shocks can now be minimized thanks to smart functions built into a drive. For example, ABB’s ACQ580 drive has purpose-built functionality for water applications.

One such function is the softpipe-fill mode which gently manages pressure during pipe filling. Application of the ACQ580, after proper commissioning with the correct ramp times and latest PID algorithms, has resulted in lower non-revenue water in numerous cases. This has given large energy savings which go straight to the bottom line. It’s important to note that the initial commissioning should be provided via the global ABB service network, as this is a key step for getting good results.

The ACQ580 has built-in multi-pump capability to allow linkage of several drives in an energy-efficient multiple control system running several pumps in parallel. As a result, wear and tear on the entire installation is spread more evenly and, at the same time, system redundancy is achieved.

ABB softstarters are perfectly suited for full speed pump applications. The built in pump algorithm torque control increases pump lifetime by eliminate water hammering, and with pump cleaning feature preventative maintenance has never been easier. 

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”

This famous quote is especially applicable for water leakage. Leaks are hard to find, especially at low flow; to solve these problems, a true near real-time picture of conditions in a water or wastewater piping network is a necessity. ABB’s battery powered AquaMaster electromagnetic flowmeter provides this via real-time data to help identify possible leaks and pipe bursts at an early stage to minimize potential disruption and costs. The flowmeter has a very wide and measurement range, maintaining accuracy from maximum peak daytime rates down to extremely low flows.

Remote access that may be needed for water assets located either underground or in very difficult locations is also possible with AquaMaster. The device, which can run with optional solar or wind power units, also allows remote monitoring to proactively identify leak problems. Remote condition monitoring of water networks also brings cost efficiencies to maintenance, as teams can be deployed when most needed, instead of on a set but not always effective schedule.

Big Data becomes Rich Data

By combining accurate flowmeter information with water-specific drive functionality, big data can be turned into rich data. This helps generate true added-value for water companies by providing the proactive insight needed to better understand, operate, analyze, and maintain water systems.
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