Monday, August 25, 2014

GIS and IoT Sensors Deliver Savings and Innovations for Utilities

Caleb Benedict
Research Analyst,
GIS and IoT 
I love sensors.  In my opinion we write too little about the role sensors play in the whole Internet of Things discussion.  Sensors are what measure things in the physical world and converts the information to digital.  This process is a key component of digital transformation which enables algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning to be implemented to help us more effectively manage our environments.  They are our eyes, ears, nose, etc., in remote places capturing activities, events and behaviors that help us eliminate blind spots and that give us situational awareness.

With sensors we can finally answer the age old question, "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"  The answer is yes, if there are sensors in place to capture the data and wirelessly report on it.

In this article Research Analyst, GIS and IoT, Caleb Benedict, shares the role sensors play in several different use cases.  Enjoy!

Municipalities and utility companies face increasing support costs as infrastructures expand and require maintenance as communities grow. These costs include repairing water mains, locating leaks in sewer and water pipes, and the planning costs associated with expanding services for new construction and city development. These expenses are significant, and require careful management.  IoT sensors can be deployed to monitor utility systems and infrastructures effectively and have been found to generate a positive ROI.

A combination of GIS application and smart sensor technology has been proven to reduce water leakage, utility maintenance, and planning costs. By connecting wireless sensors to water lines that identify leaks based on acoustic, electromagnetic, and thermal technology utilities - leaks and damaged infrastructure can be found and located quickly.  The sensor data is captured and integrated with GIS applications that alert and show utility workers the damaged section of water line on a digital map (often on a tablet, ruggedized laptop or other mobile devices). The GIS application allows service technicians to immediately see where the damaged water line is located and any other infrastructures in the vicinity, which saves much time searching for the problem and enables timely repairs that limit damage and impact to surrounding areas and systems.

The research firm TechNavio forecasts the Global GIS market in the Utility industry will grow at a CAGR of 9.27 percent over the period 2013-2018. The use and combinations of sensor and GIS systems are expected to expand to new areas and markets as sensor technologies evolve and are able to capture and measure additional types of environments, while at the same time the price for each sensor diminishes.

In the past few years we have seen a movement towards smart grids and smart meters for electricity, water, and natural gas systems. I predict that by 2019 this will become a standard practice by the developed regions of the world.

Here are some recent case studies in wireless sensors and GIS adoption that I have been researching:

The Florida county of Miami-Dade recently embraced wireless sensors and applied sensors to their water system. In their first year alone they saved $800,000 and reduced water loss by 20%.

The city of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C is using a GIS application to identify city easements and property where utility lines are located. Their applications tracks over 1000 miles of utility lines and saves the city time and money by giving field service technicians the ability to replace paper maps and quickly locate city infrastructure.

The town of Old, Canada implemented wireless sensors to their water system and saved over $175,000 their first year and reduced water loss by 10%.

Kevin Benedict
Writer, Speaker, Senior Analyst
Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.