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Smart pumping – a new era in water management and supply

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In Africa, a lot of time is spent pumping water by hand. Image credit: Flickr.

By Jaque Mare, product manager at Schneider Electric South Africa

 14 August 2021 – The world is currently faced with outdated water management infrastructure that threatens to spiral out of control as the globe’s population grows. Smart pumping introduces a new era in water management and supply.

According to the United Nations, the world’s urban population will reach 6.2 billion in 2050 and subsequent demand for water will be considerable.

Water and wastewater utilities and service providers will on a local and national level be responsible for meeting the above demand whilst driving down costs and modernising infrastructure at the same time.

It’s a tall order that is faced by many countries in the world including in Africa.  The good news is that billions of rands in water and wastewater Research and Development (R&D) is driving forward an era where new technologies provide water in an energy efficient and enhanced manner.

These technological advancements will improve the efficiency of key processes such as water extraction, purification, and transportation. Energy plays a critical role in these overall efficiency strides as it is utilised for extraction, transformation, water resource delivery, reconditioning and release.

“In fact, it is estimated that up to eight percent of the energy produced globally is used to lift groundwater, pump it through pipes and treat it.  This figure is even higher in developed countries”

Smart pumping

Enter smart pumping which can address the high cost and energy usage challenges faced by private and municipality-managed facilities. The concept of smart pumping, also known as intelligent pumping systems, combines higher efficiencies with sensors and software to regulate and control flow or pressure. This leads to energy savings, increased equipment lifetime, and maintenance cost reductions.

To understand smart pumping, it’s important to look at the components.  Water pumps, for example, are a vital cog in the smart pumping engine and if used optimally can improve energy efficiency.

However, pumps form part of a larger physical infrastructure (of pumping operations) which include electric motors and variable speed drives.  Together this trio of components (pump + drive + motor) also known as the complete drive module (CDM) can provide true efficiency gains.

Smart pumping systems distinguish itself from traditional systems as components that have the ability to automatically share information to improve efficiency.

For example, a variable speed drive can recognise the levels of activity for both motors and pumps (from idle to partial load conditions, to full capacity, and overload) and automatically make the proper adjustments to ensure that a pump operates as close to its BEP (best efficiency point) and at improved motor efficiencies.

Therefore, in a smart pumping environment, the ability to determine, monitor and even to take corrective measures can be programmed into the CDM solution. This enables operators to run the pumps at near BEP throughout the lifecycle of pumping systems.

However, in order to gain the most from smart pumping, utilities and service providers should consider the following:


  • Introducing energy consumption measurement devices into the water / wastewater architecture. Data from energy meters enable improvements in energy efficiency and allows for proactive, low-cost maintenance;
  • Deploying modern controllers with high intelligence for improved security, reduced commissioning time, and better regulation compliance and
  • Enabling “smart” visibly into the network of pumping systems through the deployment of remote monitoring. This reduces both maintenance and energy costs.

Ultimately, smart pumping has the ability to safeguard water and wastewater expenditure and maintenance, leading to a world that readily meets the demand of growing global population.

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