Operating a utility business can be particularly difficult, especially when you're trying to maximize ROI. In the water utility space, per capita water usage has decreased while water itself has become more expensive to collect. Across utilities sectors, aging infrastructure takes a large cost to maintain and eventually update. Consumer expectations and regulations also can cut into ROI. As they should, people expect clean and safe water and a continuous supply of electricity. The driving factor in the utilities space is efficiency. IoT should be able to help with just that.
For our IoT water management solution, we used Google Cloud Platform (GCP). GCP has various benefits for water management through its wide array of products. We will go over two important features of a water management IoT solution:
1: Real Time Monitoring and Maintenance
2: Analytics, and how we use GCP to implement our solution
Many cities already have “smart” meters, or IoT devices that send data on water consumption back to the water utility company every hour. The main advantage of smart metering is having accurate data on usage for revenue calculations as well as high usage detection. High usage could be due to an underlying issue such a leak, which reduces revenue and are important to address. IoT could also be useful in applications to detect water quality levels rather than just metering. If the water in your town or city’s infrastructure got polluted, water quality sensors that sample pH, dissolved oxygen, etc., could detect it much earlier, saving overall costs for public health and infrastructure.
Beyond the typical advantages of using smart metering, GCP has more advantages for real-time monitoring and maintenance. In particular, Google IoT Core can be used to manage millions of devices that should work for most (if not all) water management solutions. Google IoT Core also has two great features:
1: Secure connection
2: Two-way device connection
IoT Core comes with security built-in because devices use industry standard TLS security protocols. That security assurance is especially important for a water utility that may affect thousands or even millions of people. With this secure connection, IoT Core uses standard protocols such as MQTT and HTTP to establish two-way device connections. If a smart meter is detecting a leak, it's easier than ever to turn off the meter and email the end customer using Google’s Cloud Pub/Sub.
With Cloud Pub/Sub, we get all the power of Google’s storage and data analysis suites. Pub/Sub forwards water consumption data through Dataflow, which can store the data practically forever in BigTable and/or BigQuery. These two long term and highly reliable storage products are useful for saving data for billing, audits, and further data analysis.
Once the data is in BigQuery, we can visualize our data in Data Studio in reports that can be shared with others. We can also analyze our data in Google’s Cloud Datalab product which is used for in-depth data analysis. Datalab is built on top of Jupyter—a data scientist’s best friend—so we can do complex analysis and machine learning to maximize ROI.
As utilities continue to have slimmer margins, IoT will be useful to maximize ROI and promote public safety and reliability in the utility sector. We decided to use GCP for our water management solution for its reliability, security, and analytics capabilities.