Digital Offerings Help Aging Water Infrastructure

Nov. 29, 2016
With leaking pipes costing the water industry dearly, GE is putting its Predix digital platform and software solutions to use to tackle the challenges. GE Power is also forging multiple partnerships along the way.

Though we hear a fair bit about a power grid that has changed little since the days of Thomas Edison, the world’s water infrastructure is considerably aged as well. Decaying pipes cause leaks. And leaking water is non-revenue water—something today’s utilities can ill afford.

“In the U.S. alone, an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of water are lost annually due to infrastructure challenges, like water main breaks, pipe bursts and unidentified leaks,” said Heiner Markhoff, president and CEO—water and distributed power for GE Power.

Through the same Predix platform that it has embraced to tackle Big Data analytics in industrial manufacturing environments, GE aims to help the water industry overcome challenges in understanding data and predictive capabilities. At the latest WEFTEC event in New Orleans, GE Power met with industry journalists to discuss its latest water-related achievements—including its digital capabilities.

GE aims to build a more sustainable water future by delivering software as a service (SaaS) through Predix. “The water industry needs to use Big Data and analytics to be smarter about what it’s doing,” said Ralph Exton, chief marketing officer for GE Power.

GE’s digital water offerings center around three main areas: connecting plant operations to distribution networks, identifying and preventing potential problems in real time, and collaborating with other groups to move digital concepts forward. Exton, who is spearheading digital water initiatives for GE, outlined three software proof of concepts—focused on pipeline health, storm and sewer management, and water plant efficiency—all powered by Predix.

Investments needed to replace an aging infrastructure are daunting, with utilities facing the need to replace piping every single day, Exton said. “It’s done in a very reactive way—a pipe bursts or it’s leaking, and they send a team out to fix it,” he said. “GE Oil & Gas came up with a better way for oil and gas pipelines, which have the same infrastructure issues as water pipelines.”

Working in partnership with American Water, GE has initiated a SaaS proof of concept focused on water distribution piping, digitally mapping total pipeline health and proactively identifying risks. The software is designed to combine disparate data sets with pipeline risk algorithms to identify probable high-consequence failures and hidden leaks in drinking water pipeline systems.

Likewise, there are also infrastructure problems within storm and sewer systems, Exton said, noting that utilities are being hit with fines when pipes have problems, causing overflows when it rains. GE is working in partnership with MWH Global to release software focused on sewer and storm water overflows. The system will use level sensors and mapping to enable faster reactive maintenance and increased proactive maintenance to reduce overflow frequency and number.

GE is leveraging its digital twin technology to create the digital water plant. Already leveraging its InSight Asset Performance Management to optimize water treatment plant assets and operations, digital twin technology takes it further to help water plants run more efficiently and reliably while reducing costs and maintaining compliance. “We have the potential to create a powerful digital replica of a customer’s plant,” Exton said. “We can use the power of data and analytics to make those systems perform better.”

Besides the partnerships already mentioned, GE has entered into others to help advance its work in the digital water space. GE joined the North American Alliance of the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) to help accelerate smart water and wastewater development. “We think they’re really taking the right approach,” Exton said.

GE has long partnered with the Smart Cities Council, which promotes the move to smart, sustainable cities. With a strong emphasis on access to water in urban areas, GE hopes to contribute to long-term solutions and increase the water sustainability of cities worldwide.

GE has entered into a Beta Partner program with Imagine H2O (IH2O) to help support and deploy water innovation within IH2O’s portfolio companies, which in turn gain access to insight on how to scale their technology on a global scale.

About the Author

Aaron Hand | Editor-in-Chief, ProFood World

Aaron Hand has three decades of experience in B-to-B publishing with a particular focus on technology. He has been with PMMI Media Group since 2013, much of that time as Executive Editor for Automation World, where he focused on continuous process industries. Prior to joining ProFood World full time in late 2020, Aaron worked as Editor at Large for PMMI Media Group, reporting for all publications on a wide variety of industry developments, including advancements in packaging for consumer products and pharmaceuticals, food and beverage processing, and industrial automation. He took over as Editor-in-Chief of ProFood World in 2021. Aaron holds a B.A. in Journalism from Indiana University and an M.S. in Journalism from the University of Illinois.

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