Insights from industry

Using Smart Measurement to Meet the Increasing Shortages of Water

It is estimated that two-thirds of the population will be living in cities by 2050, the demand for fresh water is predicated to exceed sustainable supplies.

In this interview, Purvang Upadhyay, Global Water Industry Manager for ABB Measurement and Analytics talks to AZoM about the challenges the water industry is currently facing.

With increasing shortages and the growing global demand on water, why is smart measurement critical to the water industry?

There’s a Lord Kelvin quote which goes, "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."

That's what measurement in the water industry is all about. It's about taking existing processes and driving them to produce greater levels of efficiency, because the pressure on global demand for clean water is not going away.

In the last 40 years, the world’s population has doubled, and the demand for fresh water has quadrupled.  By 2030, the world will have to support another 1.2 billion people, which will require 50% more water.  Demand for water is predicted to exceed current sustainable supplies by 40% in just over 10 years.

This tells you what you need to know about the stresses and strains that the world’s water infrastructure is going to be under. Measurement is at the heart of managing the water we have more responsibly.

What are the biggest issues facing the water industry today?

I like GWI’s “3Es” classification of Water Industry drivers: efficiency, environment, and expansion. These apply just as much to developing countries as they do to the developed world.

Where you have a well-developed existing infrastructure, for example in the majority of western Europe and the United States, the driver is efficiency and the biggest issues focus on this.

For example, in the UK we receive a large amount of rain, and yet we regularly hear about water shortages in summer.

That is because within the UK there are aging networks which leak a lot of water. Within well-established water networks, the biggest challenge is to maintain that structure at a high level of efficiency and prevent the loss of water as much as possible.

In emerging countries, the challenge is different. There the focus is on expansion due to a huge movement of people from a rural environment into an urban environment.

The underdeveloped water and wastewater infrastructure is incapable of handling the sharp increase in the volume of demand that it suddenly faces.

By 2050 it is expected that two-thirds of the global population will live in cities (compared with one-third in 1950). So, water infrastructure in larger cities, particularly in the developing world, is going to be under a huge amount of stress purely because of expansion.  

Both established, and less established water networks will need to deal with environmental issues and the impact of climate change. The high frequency with which freak weather events are happening, be it dry summers or extremely wet winters, are producing huge amounts of strain on the water networks.

Allied with this is the fact that in many parts of the world there have been extremely high levels of pollution up until quite recently, due to unregulated industrial discharge. That means that the harm to the environment and to raw water sources has become extremely high.        

When it comes to protecting the environment, conserving water resources is a global responsibility. How can ABB help with this?

This is very much what drives how our instruments work. If you talk about protecting the environment by making sure that wastewater treatment processes work effectively, our broad range of analytical instrumentation plays a critical role.

These products enable water companies to fulfill tight levels of regulatory compliance, ensuring that the effluent being discharged from the treatment plant is not going to harm the environment.

Another key consideration is the amount of energy a treatment plant requires. Whether it is production of clean water or treating wastewater, energy is one of the biggest operating costs of the process.  For example roughly more than a third of the overall cost of running a wastewater treatment plant is energy.

There is a direct link between energy need and impact on the environment. We use low energy light bulbs at home to save energy. Instrumentation enables a water treatment plant to achieve a similar outcome: by making processes more efficient and reducing the amount of waste.

Isn't it time you got a deeper understanding of where your water is going?

In the US, 2.19 trillion gallons of water is lost through leakages every year. How can we help prevent this?

That is a stark figure…unfortunately leakage is a global problem.  In a quarter of countries with a well-developed water infrastructure, up to 40% of water is lost through leakage.

When you think about the scarcity issues we discussed earlier, it's a crazy amount of water that is wasted each day. It is simply not sustainable.  Remember that more than 75% of the world’s population don’t have a safe reliable 24/7 water supply.

Where does ABB comes into this?  We have delivered Instrumentation, Automation and Electrical solutions for some of the world’s largest and most complex water distribution projects.  Specifically, with regards to instrumentation, we were the pioneers in developing the first battery-operated electromagnetic flow meter in 1988. This AquaMaster product was designed specifically to help water utilities tackle the problem of leakage.

Majority of leaks around the world are not great big fountains that shoot out of pipes and close roads; they are small and persistent, producing very small changes in flowrates.  Our AquaMaster flowmeter was designed to pick up such variations and help water companies pinpoint leaks through district metering.

It is a battery-operated reduced bore meter, which means it can be installed in a densely populated urban environment without the need for mains power or straight up/downstream pipe. It was designed and developed in close conjunction with some of the leading water utilities in the world. We are proud to say that we have a huge amount of installations all over the world which help water companies tackle the challenge of leakage.

Tell us how ABB can help facilities optimize in safety, regulation, reducing costs for clean water and measuring data?

In the production of clean water and the treatment of wastewater, quality and safety are of utmost importance and that's where our high precision analytical instrumentation really helps.

In clean water applications, our products help drive regulatory compliance. They ensure that the quality of water fulfills, criteria mandated by standards such as the EU Drinking Water Directive. Regulation around this is very tight and the impact to health is significant.

Efficient coagulation is essential for clarification and filtration performance; and, to control pathogens and disinfection by-products. The ABB AZTEC 600 range of on-line colorimetric analyzers has been designed to meet the needs of the water industry, delivering highest levels of accuracy while ensuring optimum performance with minimal manual intervention. On the other side of the equation, when it comes to wastewater there's regulation but also a burden of heavy energy costs.

One of the key stages in wastewater treatment is aeration, where dissolved oxygen is pumped into a tank of wastewater to facilitate the breakdown of organic waste in sewage. The efficiency of the aeration process relies on dissolved oxygen levels being controlled as closely as possible. If insufficient dissolved oxygen is available, the rate of sewage breakdown will be adversely affected, impairing treatment process efficiency.  Too much dissolved oxygen greatly increases the risk of operators incurring excessive energy costs, effectively wasting money.

Our dissolved oxygen analyzer is designed specifically to help water companies optimize the energy usage in a process such as aeration.  It is extremely stable and accurate for up to 24 months without calibration.

A key consideration across most water treatment applications, in terms of managing cost, is the amount of chemicals that analytical instrumentation requires. Our instruments are designed to use lowest quantity of reagents, prolonging service intervals and lowering life-cycle costs.

Advanced electronics, with a variety of communication protocols make accessing data convenient.  Built-in graphical process trending and datalogging support full audit trail capability. Ultimately, data demonstrates compliance with regulation and drives your process optimization decisions.

Finally, with online analysis, measurement speed is important. The sooner you detect, the sooner you can act.  The market leading response time and update time of ABB instruments delivers continuous energy efficiency and process control.

Image Credit:Shutterstock/ AndriiSpy_k

Why is water monitoring hugely important to ensure water safety? What are the consequences if this is overlooked?

The quality of water is something that we take for granted in many different parts of the world.

Not monitoring the quality of water can have a drastic impact. If treatment of water is not controlled well enough through measurement, it could mean that the tap water may be discolored. At a higher level of risk, taste or odor could be affected.  Worst case scenario… it could make people sick.

With regards to wastewater, discharging inadequately treated effluent poses significant risks to the environment.  Excessive levels of turbidity and total suspended solids in both human and industrial waste can result in depleted levels of dissolved oxygen, causing significant harm to aquatic environments.  

Image Credit:Shutterstock/llucky78

What role is ABB playing in the global issue of water and water supply? What benefits are they bringing to water and wastewater applications?

Water has always been an integral part of our business.  We understand the needs of the industry. What we help water companies do is manage their processes in a sustainable, cost-efficient, and safe way.

Our product range has been specifically designed and developed to address the biggest challenges that water, and wastewater companies face, including issues like leakage, regulatory compliance, energy efficiency, and aging infrastructure.  In fact, many of our products were developed in close collaboration with leading global water companies.

We have a huge amount of installed base. Our products are intuitive, easy to configure, easy to integrate, and easy to maintain.

This is increasingly important in water because, much like several other industries everywhere in the world, there's a huge amount of deskilling going on. This means you can’t be reliant on tacit knowledge of someone who has worked at that water treatment plant for decades.

It is our reponsibility as instrumentation manufacturers to build some of that knowledge into our instrumentation.  For example, common HMI (Human Machine Interface) on many of our products makes it easier to train operators.  Plug and play sensors are easy to install.

Finally, we have a huge number of specialists within our global service network. This means, irrespective of where your product is installed, you'll be able to get someone from ABB who's been specifically trained in how to maintain that product when you need them the most.

Beyond Measurement and Analytics, the broader ABB reach into water is unparallel. We provide a multitude of Automation and Electrical products, systems and solutions, across the entire spectrum of municipal and industrial water and waste water applications.

This means a single point of contact for the customer. In the water industry, that's a big plus.

Image Credit:Shutterstock/harncholepunya

What role is ABB going to play in the future of water measurement and water safety?

The challenges water companies are facing are not going to go away; they're only going to intensify.

We'll continue to make sure that our products are designed specifically to help water companies deal with the challenges around scarcity, the environment, expansion, and driving greater efficiency.

Increasingly, digitalization is also becoming a prominent topic within the water industry. As we go into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, focus is moving away from instruments and towards data.

The water sector is in the early stages of digitalization journey.  There’s much more to be done in using data to drive proactive decisions that result in smart outcomes.  Water is a precious resource and it needs to be managed as such.  Think about this…only 0.007% of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its entire 7.7 billion people.  Changing behavior alone will take time, but Technology can be part of the solution.  We will continue to work closely with the industry to help mitigate and manage some of their major challenges.

Where can our readers go to find out more?

To find out more please visit

About Purvang Upadhyay  

Purvang Upadhyay is the Global Water Industry Manager for ABB’s Measurement and Analytics business. His primary role is to lead business development and marketing activities in water. Purvang spends most of his time visiting water companies, EPCs and Consultants around the world, discussing their evolving needs and ensuring these are fed back into ABB’s business.

Purvang has been with ABB for 15 years.  Originally from the UK, Purvang is currently based in Abu Dhabi.  Prior to this role, Purvang had been in a variety of Sales and General management positions at Measurement and Analytics factories in the UK.


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.


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