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Nowadays, Digital Twins are mainstream. Technologies such as sensors, big data analytics and cloud computing power a new generation of IoT-connected water assets, and even city infrastructure.

Digital Twins promise to solve the water sector’s complex problems by improving processes, increasing productivity, minimizing risks, and optimizing operational efficiencies and total performance. In addition, by enhance decision-making using automation to predict outcomes in an array of contexts.

In reality, however, there are numerous challenges when it comes to water management and the management of Digital Twins. For example, the identification and data management of the product along the product lifecycle, the creation of simulation models in different IT systems, and the management of huge volumes of data.

The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.1 calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all. To achieve the SDG 6.1 on “safely managed” water service, among other things, water must be “available when needed”. Likewise, the UN’s articulation of the Resolution 64/292 of human right to water stipulates that water supplies should be “sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses.

What are Intermittent Water Supplies?

Intermittent Water Supply (IWS) is a piped water supply service that delivers water to people for less than the full 24 hours of a day, and is used when the available supply and capacity of the water supply system are too weak. Such systems are widespread in many countries, and affect up to 1.2 billion people around the world.

The prevalence and persistence of these Intermittent Water Supplies pose important questions on the capability of IWS to meet the SDG6 and a humans right to water. Answering such a question requires a framework for understanding the causes of IWS. 

IWS can be caused by a range of factors as shown in the figure below, including water scarcity, development of a system beyond its initial design parameters and capacities, weak governance, and user behavior. Some common fallacies among utility managers are that pressure in the system causes wear and tear on the pipes, water systems provide equitable distribution, and that IWS can provide more time for maintenance and repairs.

Major causes of Intermittent Water Supply

Major causes of Intermittent Water Supply, Aboelnga 2019

Complexities of Modeling Intermittent Water Supplies

With Intermittent Water Supplies, the pumping capacities need to be much higher, almost continuously running at a high rate. Storage capacities also need to be extended. This can lead to a downward spiral, as the management of the system is extremely difficult, while customers’ willingness to pay is low. The consumers are obliged to collect as much water as possible during the limited supply hours.

The demand for water is completely different from a continuous water supply, where it is not based on the notions of diurnal variations of demand, but rather on the maximum quantity of water that can be collected during supply hours.

Hydraulic models are very powerful decision support tools for effective management of water distribution networks. However, modeling IWS systems is inherently complex since these systems are not fully pressurized, have limited water supply hours per day, and contain many ferrule points and roof tank connections. The alternate emptying and refilling of water pipelines makes it challenging to apply the standard hydraulic models, as well.

Hassan Aboelnga in a QTalk on Water Management in the Middle East and North Africa

How Intermittent Water Supply Systems can Benefit from Digital Twins

Hydraulic and water quality monitoring models can play an important role to diagnose IWS systems, make informed decisions and provide  guidance for water professionals on how best to improve service and water quality.

More advanced simulations of IWS include the process of pipes filling at the start of supply. With Digital Twins, the hydraulic model can also be robust enough to visualize the supply pressure, duration, leakage rate, and water consumption. It also demonstrates how the IWS’ behavior varies noticeably when people receive the water, helping us to understand why the systems exist and persist.

To facilitate this transformation of the water sector, digital water can help shift Intermittent Water Supplies into 24/7 supply through a system of wireless sensor nodes. This means you can continuously model hydraulic data, such as pressure and flow rate, transmitting it to cloud-based servers for processing and archiving. Then, data streams from the sensor nodes are integrated into an online hydraulic modeling subsystem that is responsible for online estimation and prediction of the water distribution system’s hydraulic state. This allows you to plan 24 hours ahead.

Read the articles below if you’re interested in hearing more about how Digital Twin technology can help utilities to optimize their network.

Hassan Aboelnga

About Hassan Aboelnga