The man looking over the water gauges couldn’t believe what he was seeing…
Just down the road, a few miles from his little control room, the giant tank holding Robinson Township’s municipal water supply was draining down… fast.
He looked at the clock. Midnight. The thermometer registered an icy 20 degrees. Somewhere out there, among the Pittsburgh suburbs’ 15 square miles of snow-covered neighborhoods and businesses, a water main was losing more than 3,000 gallons of water a minute.
He checked his dials again and did some quick calculations. The township’s storage tank held 1 million gallons of water. At this rate, all of it would be gone before dawn.
But exactly where was the water leaking? Where was the pipe break?
He had no idea.
The answer came five hours later.
A ruptured water main in the town’s commercial district drained off the majority of the township’s supply and left six inches of standing water on the floor of a neighboring Toys “R” Us (not to mention – with little available water for the day, it forced schools to close).
You read about this stuff all the time. For cities around the country, water main breaks are a fact of life.
Or are they?
This is where one of the investing mega trends – the Internet of Things (IoT) – has a rising impact.
IoT to the Rescue
What if you could place sensors in underground water mains, fire hydrants and elsewhere within a piping system, each transmitting bits of data to the town water department?
Put dozens or hundreds of those sensors together, spitting out minute-to-minute information on flow rates and water pressure, and the location of a million-gallon water main break in the middle of the night is no longer such a mystery.
Most breaks, however, aren’t so dramatic or obvious.
Think of a pinhole leak in an underground water main. It might seep a comparatively small amount of water – dozens or a few hundreds of gallons a day. But add up all those leaks in a network of pipes hundreds of miles long, and you’re talking about a lot of wasted H2O.
For instance, Philadelphia’s water department pumps 250 million gallons of water through its municipal system each day. Experts say about a quarter of the water never actually reaches the businesses and residences on the other end of its pipes. That’s 60 million gallons of water lost today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.
Until recently, good luck trying to find even a small portion of those leaks. It’s like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles.
Unless you have IoT.
Powering New Efficiencies
You can imagine how precious water is in a place such as Las Vegas. Well, the region’s water district recently installed Internet-connected sensors to the buried water mains running right down the center of the Las Vegas Strip.
The devices monitor the physical integrity of the pipe walls on a real-time basis. Such efforts have helped the water district identify more than 1,600 leaks in its system and saved nearly 300 million gallons of water.
That’s just one water system. Keep in mind, the United States has more than 150,000 city, county and regional water authorities. That’s a lot of water saved (and a lot of money too).
The Internet of Things is about more than just detecting leaks in water mains, of course. But it demonstrates in just one way the growing use of the IoT and why it’s such an investable mega trend.