Case Study: ‘Intelligence on tap’, inside Veolia Water’s smart grid for water services deployment

Inside Veolia Water’s utilisation of Actility’s ThingPark Energy to power a smart grid for water services

When someone talks about a smart grid, the first thing you’ll think of is electricity; if they talk about industrial IoT you’ll probably be imagining factory monitoring and automation. But in this case study, we’ll be taking a look at how combining sensing and remote control throughout a network with data analytics, process modelling and forecasting can make a giant of the water industry more efficient and open up new business opportunities. Welcome to Veolia’s Smart Water Network.

Veolia Water is one of the world’s largest suppliers of water services, originally based in France but now operating on a large scale across Europe, in the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and APAC. The company provides managed fresh water and waste water services for municipal and industrial clients, handling every step in the water cycle, from capture to treatment, distribution, waste water recovery and processing and release back into the environment.

Energy consumption is involved throughout this cycle, pumping water through the treatment facilities and the pipes connecting them, to homes and then back through the waste water processing. Buying electricity is a significant cost for Veolia. More than 80% of that electricity is used for pumping and aeration. Typically, pumping stations buy electricity at fixed rates, with little price difference between peak and off-peak hours. However, prices in the wider electricity market vary much more significantly.

This creates opportunities for consumers like Veolia, with the flexibility to schedule their operations to an alternative timetable and react swiftly, to create additional business value from its extensive storage capacity – water tanks – and large number of electrical devices such as pumps, valves and aerators, which can be activated and shut down very quickly.

Encouraged by an increase in water production and tougher environmental challenges Veolia selected Actility’s ThingPark Energy platform to improve the efficiency of its pumping stations and treatment plants. Actility brings its tried and tested real-time optimisation algorithms to bear on modelling the complex water process. Realtime planning and scheduling is driven by the demands on the water network at any given time combined with live data on electricity pricing from the supplier market. Hundreds of electricity consuming devices are remotely controlled, taking into account fluctuating energy prices. The final operational plan is scheduled to minimise the overall cost of electricity whilst ensuring that operational demands on the network are always met.

Being flexible pays dividends Actility’s ThingPark Energy Platform makes use of high performance data analytics tools originally developed for demand-response tools to secure electricity supply grids against unusual peaks in energy usage. The predictive modelling capability enables the system to respond automatically with the best solution when faced with unplanned situations. The system learns and the operational plan is updated automatically, whilst continuing to respect the constraints of the underlying processes. The automated system provides significant levels of support to on call-operation teams, reducing workload and supporting good decision making. The same prediction capabilities, combining with operational monitoring of systems and components, can detect failures and mobilise human experts as soon as such issues are detected. This enhances process and business key performance indicators (KPIs).

Over several years at the forefront of European demand-response solutions, Actility’s Energy Business Unit has developed a deep understanding of the information management systems and control systems found in large utilities. This allows seamless integration between the ThingPark Energy solutions for energy process optimisation and Veolia’s existing management system, using established data collection and communication protocols. Actility rolled out a highly redundant and secure virtual private network (VPN) between Veolia’s server and ThingPark Energy, ensuring a transparent solution for the customer. Veolia’s network is on its way to becoming a smart grid for water.

Energy process modelling allows Veolia’s smart water grid to take the next step in terms of scale. It is one of ThingPark Energy’s solutions which allows the operator to control multiple sites using predictive modelling to determine each site’s optimal load curve. The whole portfolio of sites is then globally optimised, with the sites responding to the commands sent by ThingPark Energy to their local controllers – programmable logic controllers (PLCs). This solution is reliable and highly scalable, allowing Actility to support Veolia in many countries in their transition to smart water management with minimum investments in monitoring and control systems.

As well as optimising energy consumption and reducing electricity costs, Actility has enabled a new revenue stream for Veolia as a provider of flexibility in a demand-response market. When demand for electricity rises in a national distribution grid, there are two options: the energy providers have to generate more electricity, or the users of energy reduce consumption. In recent years, as more renewable energy resources have come on stream, the capacity for instantly increasing electricity supply has reduced, and instead smart grid systems have been introduced which enable large-scale temporary reduction in energy usage. Actility works with a number of large consumers of electricity, like Veolia, which can temporarily reduce their consumption by rescheduling planned activities like pumping, making use of the flexibility offered by their storage reservoirs. This means that not only is Veolia benefitting from buying electricity for its needs at the lowest prices, but also effectively being paid for electricity it is not using by the grid transmission system operator (TSO).

After approval by Veolia, ThingPark Energy optimises operations to benefit from those electricity market opportunities, and seamlessly integrates automated demand-response into the overall energy management system, ensuring that demand-response activations don’t need to involve Veolia’s on-site operators, and have no impact on global production.

Actility’s solution for Energy Process Optimisation and Automated Demand Response offers multiple benefits to Veolia Water, including:

  • Delivering additional revenues with automated demand-response
  • Monitoring smart electricity consumption and detecting abnormalities in processes
  • Actively contributing to improved security of electricity supply and CO2 emission reduction
  • Relieving the day to day workload of the operational team, allowing focus on key issues

The customer has achieved a series of benefits as Christophe Lepoutre, the vice president for Energy and Subcontracting Procurement at Veolia, explains: “Actility has created new value for Veolia and we have engaged in a close partnership with them,” he says. “Thanks to Actility’s unrivalled expertise in energy management and demand response linked to the wider energy market economics, the company helps us extract hidden value from the flexibility of our industry by adding smart modelling and predictive algorithms to our existing automation systems.”

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