The heartbeat of U.S. water and wastewater infrastructure is the millions of pump systems that move water through networks of underground pipes to the points of use. Pumps are the critical operational equipment in this delivery, and their health and efficiency are important to all utility personnel including management, operations and maintenance. Limited resources and a lack of technological solutions have hindered the ability of many utilities to manage pump systems.
But this is changing in ways that will yield great benefits for utilities as well as the wider economy and environment.
Pump Health & Efficiency Management
Pump health management is a must. Pump failures can lead to the discharge of raw sewage into waterways, flood neighborhood streets and homes, negatively impact fire protection services, and cause main breaks and loss of water pressure to residents. Such failures have occurred in communities around the country—like the one in New Orleans, Louisiana—and have cost tens of millions of dollars to recover from or repair.
Improving pump efficiency also makes sense from a business perspective. U.S. water utilities spend $5 billion annually on energy. A full 70 percent of energy costs are related to pumps and blowers, many of which operate at poor efficiency. In addition, 80 percent of pumps have maintenance deferred, leading to higher energy costs. Running pump systems efficiently reduces operating costs and minimizes their carbon footprint while extending the equipment life.
How can utilities better manage pump system health and efficiency? Many utilities have hundreds of pump systems, with many designed generations ago. Fifty-year-old systems are not uncommon. Skeleton staffs, shoestring budgets and limited monitoring capabilities are also challenges. To overcome these challenges, utilities need a low-cost technology that can serve as a reliable 24/7 digital employee.
The good news is that with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), such platforms exist. The most significant breakthrough in the marketplace is in cost, effectively applying the IoT to existing pump systems, new or old, without capital outlay or additional hardware.
Most utilities have telemetry in place that is underleveraged because it is mainly used for process control and not for pump system health and efficiency management. By intelligently mining real-time data, the technology platform can provide capabilities for utilities that they currently do not possess.
A water booster station pumps between seven and 50 million gallons per day (mgd) of drinking water with an average discharge pressure of 120 pounds per square inch (psi). The station has six pumps, each rated at 18 mgd generating between 190 to 350 total dynamic head (TDH). One pump operates on a variable frequency drive (VFD), and the rest are throttle controlled.
A real-time AI platform was deployed to manage the health and efficiency of the station. The platform featured a dashboard with a built-in AI advisor that displayed pump station performance and issued real-time advice on the most efficient operation based on live, on-the-ground conditions, equipment performance and availability (see Image 1). Based on the real-time advice, the operator saw an annual energy savings of 15.4 percent.
The best part is that implementation required no capital investment. While the facility described above was automated, the technology platform functions regardless of automated or manual system control.
In addition, the platform has built-in motor and digital pump health check capability (see Image 2). It visually displays where a pump is operating on its pump curve and creates a new curve that may be different than the original factory curve. This was found to be very useful to trigger maintenance that is based on real-time asset intelligence rather than a fixed preventive maintenance schedule. At this station, three out of six pumps were operating off their curve either due to degradation or system design, resulting in an additional $72,000 per year of operating costs.
The platform also has built-in anomaly detection that alerts the operators that one of the pumps, under a specific set of operating conditions, is prone to deadheading. In fact, it turned out that this condition was occurring frequently and could lead to pump damage. The platform’s anomaly detection is a key feature since utility personnel often do not have time to sit and wait for problematic conditions to arise. The platform’s real-time mining of telemetry data rapidly identifies both common and “needle in the haystack” events and warns operators of cavitation, impeller degradation, air entrapment, suction side clogging, ragging, outside best efficiency point (BEP) operation, deadheading and flow loss before they cause damage or failure.
The platform is versatile, with the ability to accommodate various design, process piping and telemetry configurations including applications for surface water treatment plants, groundwater well treatment plants, wastewater lift stations, influent raw sewage pumping and return activated sludge pumps. It can also handle constant speed, VFD or throttle controlled pump systems.
Based on previous installations, utilities can achieve between 10 and 50 percent savings in energy costs by using real-time AI platforms. This is a significant number since energy is the second highest line item for utilities. Furthermore, for every $1 in recurring operations and maintenance (O&M) savings, utilities can invest $10 to $13 in capital without raising water and sewer rates or capital from the market. When combined with other benefits such as manpower efficiency, no capital outlay, rapid deployment and payback all while leveraging existing infrastructure, this is a compelling value proposition for utilities.
By combining an X-ray-like capability for providing digital pump signature, a Fitbit-like capability for pump performance assessment, a collision-alert-like capability for anomaly detection and a GPS-navigation-like capability for optimal operating advice—a low-cost IoT technology that industry has been awaiting is available now.