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In the United States, millions struggle to access clean water. Utilities’ top challenges for providing stable access are: minimizing control system exposure, assessing risks and identifying infrastructure vulnerabilities. If the current consumption trend persists, there will be a $195 billion worth of outstanding works by the year 2040. The rising backlog of latent expenditure is not only driven by maintenance and operational issues, but also by failing to prioritize high-impact, low-probability events into their strategic asset management planning. Digitalization holds the potential to change all of that.
By combining our deep asset knowledge with digital expertise from legacy companies SEMAS and EAMS Group, Arcadis Gen focuses on harnessing the potential of data and technology to generate what’s next. We invited Mike Rose, Arcadis Gen’s Chief Strategy Officer, to reflect on the ways Building a fit-for-future water utility brings the digital and human worlds together to positively disrupt the water sector.
The challenges in accessing safe water
The Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina published an overview of clean water access challenges in the United States which shows how water utilities are facing degradation of antiquated water infrastructure as more severe weather events bring about flooding, threats to property and loss of life. Aging infrastructure and insufficient investment are a continually looming crisis. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades the U.S. water infrastructure as a “D” and wastewater infrastructure as a “D+.” As of 2017, the ASCE estimates that there are roughly 240,000 water main breaks per year, which wastes over two trillion gallons of treated drinking water.
More than that, individuals and communities are facing additional access challenges, such as lack of household running water, water and wastewater bills rapidly increasing, as well as lead service lines that still run into the homes of individuals all over the country despite the grave health risks of lead poisoning.
With all these factors greatly affecting the water sector in providing stable access to safe water, it is critical to integrate sustainable asset management into their holistic strategy planning. Using our asset management model and customer data points, we have seen improvement in accuracy over age and material in the asset lifecycle, predicting the future to be more resilient to both internal and external factors.
How sustainable asset management comes into play
Extreme weather events demonstrate that there is a clear yet complex link between weather and demand placed on infrastructure assets. This link highlights a critical need for instantaneous organization-wide data to ensure continuation of critical services, such as water supply, whilst protecting the environment by drawing from the most sustainable sources.
One key factor to achieve this is by creating a single, unified view across every asset in every region in the business to view asset health and status in real time, providing detailed risk analyses considering localized and real-time data. When combined with machine-learning, this solution can produce a highly accurate forecast for the volume of water required across the network as it refreshes every 15 minutes. This ensures users to have near real-time information to support decision-making for medium term and delivery planning.
Holistic strategizing combines operational planning, which focuses on the maintenance of their infrastructure; strategic planning, which brings outside factors such as high-impact, low-probability events into their decision-making process; and sustainable asset management, which means having a reliable, always up-to-date single source of truth on the status of their assets.
Sustainable asset management is vital in identifying infrastructure vulnerabilities and assessing risks because centralizing asset data makes evidence-based decision-making easier as more people in an organization can access and assess the status of their network, resulting in quicker data-driven responses to changing influences.
Knowing where and how water utilities capture, store and organize their asset data is the first step towards sustainable asset management. Digitalization then comes in to help them make the right decisions at the right times by revealing data about people and their relationship with their water.
Finding efficiency through optimization and forward planning
In the United States alone, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day – this started in 2011 and will continue until the year 2030. Combining these expected retirements with employment shifts, an estimate of 3 million workers will need to be replaced by 2028.
This makes for a stronger case to find new ways of working. Advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, coupled with a culture of innovation, can be transformative for the water sector. Prioritizing building a data processing value chain – the capture, storage, blending and analytics of data – also enables them to carry out cross-asset optimization.
Since the risks of aging assets are poorly understood, unplanned maintenance is roughly 1.5 times the cost of planned maintenance, and emergency maintenance equates to roughly triple the cost of planned maintenance. Through using predictive tools that have been tailored to specific asset uses, it is easier to model individual assets for actionable insights and then pull the data together for strategic projects or cross-asset optimization.
About the author
Mike Rose is the Chief Strategy at Arcadis Gen, the global digital business from Arcadis. Shaping the future, Mike is building a global network of partnerships and alliances to provide customers with technology products and solutions which enable them to use data to make better decisions, improving the outcomes they deliver to their customers.