Part 2. Supply — advancing management of water distribution

A hallmark of water supply in Denmark is its being planned and managed with twofold appreciation for water as a valuable resource and the need to be mindful of energy consumption. Prioritizing across these levels has led Danish utilities to being at the forefront of developing smart water networks, fit for the twenty-first century.

In several notable municipalities the outcomes are plain to see. Non-revenue water (NRW) is remarkably low throughout Denmark, but across the utilities of 3VAND — representing water utilities of the cities Copenhagen, Odense and Aarhus together providing water to 2 million people — it is just 6%. Meanwhile, national security of supply is practically 100%.

Estimates put global NRW at 126 billion m3/year, costing some $39 billion/year (Liemberger & Wyatt, 2018), and average global NRW above 30%. Given these numbers, it’s of clear importance that awareness and access to viable solutions are supported. In Denmark, a variety of tools and efforts have been put in place to deliver such a low NRW level, and the nation has a formalized ambition to support the tunneling of its solutions and expertise to outside regions.  

Klavs Høgh, project director for water supply at the Danish engineering consultancy company NIRAS, remarks on his perspective on Denmark’s transition. Denmark are having some of the lowest water loss rates in the world. Klavs Høgh says: “In many places around the world, water loss is unfortunately very high. But we have proven that solutions can be implemented to dramatically improve that situation.” 

Mette Neerup Jeppesen, manager for water supply at NIRAS, adds: “Having progressed through a long process to get NRW so low. We’re now in a position to share knowledge with others so they don’t have to go through the long learning process we went through. It has become a fundamental part of NIRAS business philosophy to support sustainable operations, and contribute to UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), wherever we can. We generally make great efforts to think more sustainably.’

The reasoning, Neerup Jeppesen explains, is simple: “Both because we feel a responsibility to contribute to the technological development moving that direction and because it is very often is associated with healthy finances for our customers.”

Interestingly, the efforts have led to outcomes credited with greater value than first envisioned. As Neerup Jeppesen notes: “Ten years ago, we didn’t know how significant lowering NRW would be, but it’s especially clear now in light of energy and water targets, and the SDGs.”

Supply as an integrated system

What emerges from reviewing the ingredients to Danish success with NRW is that there is no single solution. But rather a myriad of pieces to the puzzle, set in place with a holistic approach to planning infrastructure and managing operations. This latter dimension is described by Høgh as, “treating the whole distribution system as one integrated system.”

Høgh expanded on this, saying: “You have to look at optimizing your pipe infrastructure with separately metered district metered areas (DMAs). While, at the same time adding all the necessary “handles” such as intelligent pumps and valves that react to the actual demand to improve pressure control and flow. Thereby, combining with sensors and smart devices within a comprehensive management strategy. All sorts of factors are at play in lowering NRW; certainly, a longer-sighted solution, built for the future, is much more cost-effective in the long-run.”

Danish DMAs therefore represent a multi-faceted solution, incorporating novel physical technologies alongside sophisticated monitoring and operating of the network via supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

Pia Jacobsen, chief engineer – water reuse, at one of Denmark’s largest water utilities, Aarhus Vand, explains this path to securing such low NRW, saying: “It’s a thirty year story, with a focus on water usage and leakage. The adoption of DMAs has been a major source of gains, helping us to bring NRW to around 5%.”

But Jacobsen comments that implementing DMAs wasn’t an overnight solution. Rather, they had to be refined over time: “We’ve learned much about optimizing the size of a DMA for monitoring the water balancing and leakage. But also integrating their management through common SCADA platforms, and the operation of multiple teams responsible for different tasks working across.”

In Skanderborg municipality, just adjacent to Aarhus, similar works have been undertaken to improve supply. 

Here, the adoption of DMAs and smart technologies across the supply network has brought about flexibility and new options, and improved asset management. It’s also much more sustainable; enabling energy efficiency advances which are critical considering the significant amounts of energy required to produce and supply water.

“As early as 2015 we realized that consumption data can be used for much more than smooth billing,” comments Rune Kier, water strategist in Skanderborg Utility and AquaGlobe – Water Solution Center. 

“We did a pilot project called Smart Water City with Kamstrup, EnviDan and DHI aiming to use hour-by-hour consumption data to project future consumption and control pump operations. The pilot alone saved 15% energy the first year we introduced DMAs in a limited area, and a further 10% the next year on all our water works combined. And we reached as low as 6% water loss. With that number comes much faster detection of leakages, fewer man hours spent and better asset management.” 

Moving forward, Kier explained that Skanderborg Utility and AquaGlobe are undertaking a new project adding the partners the Alexandra Institute and Aarhus Vand. “It’s called CHAIN – Smart Water Network, and it explores the potential of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning in the supply net from well to tap. We believe it can bring us as low as 3% water loss as well as benefits in energy efficiency, water quality and security of supply”.

Project LEAKman

Despite accomplishments with NRW, Danish water tech players are pushing forward with new technologies and systems, and seeking to secure still better results. Project LEAKman is a perfect example. 

Developed by an association of nine Danish partners representing technology providers, consultants, water utilities and the Technical University of Denmark. Which includes AVK, NIRAS, Grundfos, Kamstrup (all partners to the WATEC summer school). LEAKman aims to deliver a comprehensive state-of-the-art solution that can reduce water loss and help solve the global challenge of NRW.

Additionally, LEAKman will establish guidelines for selecting the proper technologies, systems, tools and techniques to be implemented at water utilities around the world to optimise the effect on NRW reduction.

The project embraces an approach where all pieces are at play, including economic analysis of the return of investment (and financial impact of NRW). But also selecting appropriate KPIs for monitoring the current state and set targets for monitoring effects of different leakage management solutions. As well as evaluation of implementation of system interfaces.

Høgh, project manager at LEAKman, explains: “The goal is to get the existing elements to work together, and to exchange data and knowledge to make us all smarter in the process. To do this we are using advanced hydraulic modelling to plan and design the optimal solutions and combination of systems before they are installed.”

“But it does not stop there, when the various elements are installed, we collect online data from all devices, and we have the hydraulic models running real-time to further strengthen the monitoring and allow for real-time optimization and control.”

One LEAKman  partner is leading supplier of intelligent energy and water metering solutions, Denmark’s Kamstrup, whose role in the project is focused on making water consumption more transparent. Presently this involves almost 5,000 remotely-read smart meters now installed in LEAKman project demonstration areas.

Stig Knudsen, product manager at Kamstrup says: “To reduce water loss, you have to find leaks fast and to do that, you need to know what you’re looking for. That’s where we come in: mapping water loss through remote network reading and info codes.”

Alongside measuring consumption, Kamstrup’s meters enable ongoing online water balance monitoring across DMAs by providing utilities with metrics and notifications about leaks and bursts, temperature variations, tampering, and back flows. 

Altogether the system will circumvent manual meter readings, estimated calculations and the problems relating to time-consuming follow-ups on inaccurate or missing readings.

Kamstrup also provides pressure sensors that allow the utilities to perform pressure optimization based on knowledge of the actual pressure at the critical points of the distribution network. Such an approach avoids reliance on ‘theory and assumptions’, and provides utilities far more accurate, actionable intelligence to work from, for instance facilitating tracking and possibly avoiding pressure surges altogether.

Another key player in LEAKman, and in Danish water supply scene, is AVK Group; a Danish outfit and a world leader in production of valves, hydrants, and accessories for water distribution network. 

AVK’s advancement of sophisticated valve technology is key, since it enables operating supply at the lowest required pressure.Thereby, reducing both leakage from existing leaks and also burst frequency. While, reducing energy consumption and prolonging the lifetime of the pipes.

In fall 2018, intelligent valves for pressure reduction from AVK were implemented in two LEAKman demonstration areas. These AVK valves continuously manage and minimize the pressure across DMAs whilst ensuring the minimum required pressure at all end-user connections. Earlier feasibility studies have shown pressure reduction potentials of 35% in Klampenborg DMA and 30% in Mileparken DMA thanks in part to the valves.

Grundfos, a global leader in advanced pump solutions and a trendsetter in water technology, has also supported the work in Denmark that has secured such remarkably low NRW. 

Intelligent pumps that are controlled by the actual demand of the systems lowers the pressure from pumping areas to an absolute minimum, thereby reducing both leakages and energy. This is the concept of demand driven distribution, developed by Grundfos to bring maximum benefit to the water utility. 

Water supply in the smart town of Nye

In other instances, entirely novel water supply solutions are under development. In the sustainable concept-town of Nye, outside of Aarhus, rainwater is collected and purified at a centralized facility before distribution for clothes washing and toilet water. Starting with around 250 houses, the initiative will be ramped up to supply 20,000 people across some 6,000 residences. 

Aarhus Vand’s Jacobsen comments: “It’s a definite option for new developments in other places, and we’re looking into other options for scaling up the water recycling too.” 

The work warrants close attention, especially for new towns being built, where opportunities for sustainable infrastructure from day one are in play.

Water on demand

A powerful combination of smart technologies, coupled with soft solutions such as DMAs has proven highly effective in Danish water supply, but the story is not over. 

As Aarhus Vand’s Jacobsen notes: “We’re still pushing innovation, and especially interested in potential gains available in energy efficiency that can be attained with automation and variable controls in supply. We’re aiming to build up a system where we can forecast usage, so we know what to deliver, when to deliver, and what to produce. Our hope is water on demand.’ 

“It’s work that requires working with companies, like AVK and Grundfos, on better valve control in pumping systems where we adapt to a certain pressure in the system.” 

Jacobsen’s colleague, Jan Tøibner, adds that other new solutions and approaches are being explored too: “An example is automation, and robotics. Using data to optimize assets and provide prognostic assessment of pipes is incredibly exciting and looks towards providing means to avoid renewing too soon, or too late — something that’s key to lifetime operations costs of a system. Automation is one of the biggest opportunities we have when it comes to lowering the energy consumption.”


A future with minimised water loss

The average water loss in the Danish water distribution network is below 10 %. This level is among the lowest worldwide, and reducing the loss of drinking water is a global focus area. Together with DTU, the water suppliers Nordvand and HOFOR and a number of other industry partners, AVK has joined the LEAKman partnership.
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