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Digitalisation can optimise South Africa’s water and wastewater infrastructure – Schneider Electric

20th January 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Digital transformation can play a significant role in reshaping the water and wastewater sector, particularly across ageing infrastructure, which continues to face challenges such as water leaks and high rates of energy consumption.

Schneider Electric cluster industrial software leader Johan Potgieter says technology and the company’s water and wastewater solutions break down silos and enable faster, more sustainable decisions for lower energy consumption and reduced waste generation.

The group, which has systems installed across many water networks, reviews the entire water cycle to ensure water is safe, and that systems are reliable, sustainable and efficient across the entire value chain.

“It is not just about wastewater, but rather the entire water cycle from the water network – from the earth up to your glass, basically. We look at that whole process.”

As the water sector increasingly starts to embrace and accelerate its digitalisation journey, for Schneider Electric, it is about holistic solutions from beginning to end, which will ultimately help mitigate the many challenges confronting the water and wastewater sector.

These include environmental; ageing infrastructure and nonrevenue water; capital and operational expenditure (opex) constraints; evolving regulations; cybersecurity and physical security; an ageing workforce; digital transformation; and water scarcity.

Controlling opex within the water and wastewater environments can be difficult as physical assets age, leading to rising maintenance costs and downtime.

Worldwide, including in South Africa, a significant portion of existing water and wastewater infrastructure is nearing the end of its life cycle and, much like many industrial plants, maintenance is often reactive.

This is compounded by limited skills transfer as utility employees become eligible to retire within the foreseeable future.

Mechanisms are required to capture these employees’ expertise and knowledge and transfer them to the next generation of employees.

Technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things and artificial intelligence provide the solutions and the opportunity for the water and wastewater industry to address its ageing infrastructure and workforce.

Plants will be able to measure and control reliability risk in real time, while plant performance managers and operators will be able to adjust setpoints and visualise, in real time, the impact their adjustments have on both processes and opex savings.

There is “so much power” in software and hardware as technologies evolve, Potgieter told Engineering News & Mining Weekly on the sidelines of a discussion surrounding Schneider Electrics offerings to the water sector.

Technology, including telemetry, for example, offers workable solutions to utilities and water infrastructure operators, save opex and deliver a skilled, “futureproofed” workforce.

Overall, digital transformation can play a major role in reshaping water and wastewater workforce capabilities, with an integrated sensor-to-enterprise solution leveraging data in software suites to monitor plants and network and recycling water resources, as well as identify leakages and ensure water quality and energy efficiency.

By implementing software and digital suites, the reliability of ageing infrastructure can be improved, which leads to the extended life of the infrastructure.

Potgieter cites the company’s EcoStruxure for Water and Wastewater platform where all the different types of products can be “plugged in” to get to an end-to-end solution.

The EcoStruxure’s three levels comprises connected products, edge control and apps, analytics and services.

The connected products, physical products in the field, can connect smartly, directly to the edge control platform in the form of the cloud or a supervisory control and data acquisition (Scada) system, among others, providing an overall view of the plant or plants in multiple geographical locations on the apps, analytics and services control layer, which collects and stores all current and historical data, enabling trend and data analysis for any period of time.

A fully integrated remote Scada solution for water and wastewater networks offers reduced opex, owing to fewer on-site visits and an increased monitoring area; optimised maintenance efforts, with integrated features to support operators and maintenance staff; complete and centralised management of controllers, wireless communications and data logging functions; and a complete historical record with industry-standard and open protocols to support data analytics.

This can provide extensive analysis to monitor bottlenecks, provide updates on performance, identify gaps and requirements, identify the best route or response for challenges or problems and streamlining the system.

Schneider Electric’s telemetry solutions address the challenges through focusing on three key water subsegments: water resources, water networks and wastewater networks.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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