SCADA / Data Acquisition / Optimization

SCADA systems harbor untapped data

Water utilities look for ways to flow data in smart cities.

By Mike Bacidore, editor in chief, Control Design


The water/wastewater industry is feeling the stress of the growing world population, but smart-city technologies could have a profound impact on water supply, sanitation and the resulting energy consumption around the globe.

Black & Veatch is a global engineering, consulting and construction company, specializing in water, energy and telecommunications. The technology it integrates and deploys has changed considerably since the company was founded more than 100 years ago.

At Schneider Electric’s CONNECT 2016 conference this week in New Orleans, Julie Inman, automation practice leader, water, and Steve Wortendyke, business development, smart integrated infrastructure—water, at Black & Veatch, shared their insights about water/wastewater trends, leveraging SCADA data and how the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is changing the industry.

Emerging trends

“At the top level, we have our servers and applications,” explained Inman. “The servers are collecting data and storing it. One trend we’re seeing is the use of an Ethernet backbone for communications. Plants and their employees are also interested in using mobile devices. We haven’t seen a lot in use yet, but they’re asking about it. We’re also staring to see remote access, especially for unmanned plants.”

Below the servers and applications is the control level. “The trends were seeing are smaller form factors and increasing options for communications,” continued Inman. “Field devices are becoming a lot smarter. There are 20-80 parameters you can get from these devices. And, instead of copper wires, this is being transmitted over fieldbus.”

Now that all of this data is being collected, it needs to be connected and leveraged. “This has been a little slow to adopt in the water industry, mainly because of security,” explained Inman. “In recent years, we’ve seen some directives from the government for increased security. Within a couple of years, there will be mandates. But manufacturers are already stepping up and implementing more security in the end devices.”

These secure connections allow utilities to use a remote data hub to manage big data for optimization and adaptation of systems. “A smart city uses information and communications technology to manage its critical functions—infrastructure and social systems—in smarter and more integrated ways,” said Wortendyke. “On the water side of the business, utilities often view themselves as not being part of that smart city. However, they are integral to an overall smart city’s plan. To be greener, we must look at the biggest use of electricity happening in the plant—in the pumps and the distribution system.”

Efficiency driving smart-city initiatives

The rise of the smart city was spawned by wireless coverage, integrated infrastructure, data storage and process, cloud coverage and analytics, explained Wortendyke. Integrated infrastructure means identifying what sensors are needed to get the data and then deciding what to do with the data.

According to a recent Black & Veatch survey, the primary driver of a smart-city initiative is improving efficiency of operations, identified by 42.5% of the survey participants. And water utilities are increasing their use of cloud-based solutions, according to the survey. From an IT perspective, the business and operational driver for these types of initiatives is the single point of truth— where all of the data resides in one place.

“How can I use that data to better run that plant with visibility and performance optimization?” asked Wortendyke. “Within any community or utility, there are data silos. Cities benefit from synergies that cultivate system-wide intelligence driven by IoT.”

Wortendyke cited a recent project in which his company started with three silos of data, including the SCADA system. “We thought about using the historian as a data hub for a single point of truth, but we have analytic tools that we’re able to use, so we send it up to the cloud,” he said. “From the data hub, the analytics yield information through prescriptive calculations, predictive calculations and descriptive calculations, and they create key performance indicators (KPIs) based on items such as cost, chemicals and energy.”

Then visualization tools provide the ability to look at the information. “When you look at all of the data management systems, we want to inform you and help you to make a better call,” explained Wortendyke, who advised forming a data-management plan through the context of a SCADA master plan. “How does data management enhance this effort? Within the context of a separate data management master plan, look at all facets of data within a utility.”

The biggest trend is with organizations leveraging the data that’s trapped within the SCADA system, explained Inman, but to get from where they are to where they want to be, an automation plan needs to be developed.

“Assess where you are today,” she advised. “Where do you want to be? Where are the gaps? What do you need to fill those gaps? What brings the most value? Then, come back and revisit that plan because the technology does change. There are a lot of stakeholders who could have valuable input into the process. And, like it or not, there’s an IT component. We need to reach across that aisle to them.”