For decades, anyone needing to monitor water quality would purchase equipment to measure the parameters of interest. Today, Meteor Communications has challenged that model with their ‘Water Quality as a Service’ (WQaaS) solution.
“Ultimately, people monitor water quality because they need data,” explains Meteor’s MD Matt Dibbs. “So, we would happily sell them water quality monitoring systems, but many of our customers now prefer to just pay for the data – and let us manage the equipment.”
This radical approach has proved so popular with water companies, regulators and environmental consultants that hundreds of stations are now in the field, delivering continuous real-time, water quality data.
Matt says: “Our monitoring systems are ideal for providing real-time data from remote locations because they operate on very low power and wirelessly connect with the MeteorCloud secure web portal providing secure access for clients to view and download their own data.”
Wireless environmental sensor networks
Working with water companies and government agencies, Meteor Communications developed the ESNET (Environmental Sensor NETwork) autonomous water quality monitoring systems to allow rapid deployment with no requirement for pre-existing power or communication infrastructure. Modular and with multiparameter capability as well as built-in communications, ESNET systems deliver robust, high resolution real-time water quality data within minutes of deployment. The systems are available as a complete portable monitoring station or as part of a kiosk pumped system for semi-permanent or fixed installations. ESNET enables the rapid creation of monitoring networks, which is a particular advantage in the monitoring of catchments because it allows water managers to track the movement of water quality issues as they pass through a river system.
ESNET sondes are typically loaded with sensors for parameters such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, conductivity, turbidity, ammonium, Blue Green Algae and chlorophyll. However, it is also possible to include other water quality parameters as well as remote cameras, water level and flow, or meteorological measurements. The addition of autosamplers enables the collection of samples for laboratory analysis; either at pre-set intervals and/or initiated by specific alarm conditions. This is a particular advantage for water companies and regulators because it enables the immediate collection of samples in response to a pollution incident, which informs mitigation measures and helps to identify the source of contamination.
How ‘Water Quality as a Service’ works
Under a WQaaS agreement, Meteor Communications installs ESNET stations at the customers’ sites, measuring pre-specified parameters. Meteor is then responsible for all aspects of the installation and retains ownership of the equipment. The provision of high intensity (typically 15 minute intervals) water quality data is assured by daily online checks that the stations are performing correctly. In addition, regular site visits are conducted for service and maintenance including monthly visits to swap the water quality sondes with duplicates which have been calibrated at Meteor’s dedicated Water Quality Services Hub near Basingstoke. “This ability to swap sondes is a vitally important feature of the service,” Matt explains. “By providing this service to all WQaaS customers there is a major benefit of scale, because this has enabled us to establish a dedicated sonde service and calibration facility that is able to process large batches of sondes quickly and effectively.”
Advantages of non-ownership model
The most important advantages are financial. With no capital costs, this model provides enormous flexibility for the users of the service because it means that they only have to spend money on the data that they need. In addition, there are no equipment depreciation costs and no requirement for investment in the resources that are necessary for ongoing service and calibration.
For many of Meteor’s customers, the main advantage is peace of mind, because continuity of data is usually vitally important. With staff from its Water Quality Services Hub checking outstations every day, combined with regular site visits, users of the system can rest assured that uninterrupted monitoring will generate a comprehensive dataset. On rare occasions, monitoring activities can be hampered by vandalism or even natural events, but the WQaaS system ensures that such issues are detected immediately, so that appropriate action can be implemented quickly to protect the continuity of data.
Risk reduction is also an advantage, because purchased equipment can fail, resulting in a requirement for repairs or replacement parts, which may cause a loss of data continuity. However, under the WQaaS scheme, Meteor is responsible for the system’s uptime, so spares for all of the ESNET’s modules are kept on standby as rapid replacements.
Where water quality monitoring is required for a specific project, the equipment can be tailored to meet precise needs, and at the end of the project the monitoring equipment is simply removed. This is ideal for consultants or researchers bidding for projects with a monitoring element, because it allows them to define the costs very accurately in advance.
Flexibility is the key benefit for water company users of the WQaaS model. Traditionally, final effluent water quality monitoring at wastewater treatment plants is undertaken by fixed equipment installed with appropriate capital works. This means that mainly larger plants benefit from continuous monitoring, so the major advantage of the ESNET systems is that they can be rapidly deployed at any site; delivering water quality insights later that same day. Then, once the investigation is complete, the equipment can be easily moved to a different plant.
Summarising Matt says: “This technology has been developed over many years, and with hundreds of systems already in the field we have invested heavily in the resources that are necessary to support these networks. This means that our customers do not need to make the same investment, which delivers efficiency and cost-saving benefits for everyone.
“We still sell ESNET systems to those for whom ownership makes more sense, but for many others the advantages of WQaaS are significant, because when the monitoring stops; so does the cost!”