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    Water metering and remote sensing with one-way LPWAN systems (Taggle)


    Nadine Cranenburgh

    Description: Taggle currently manages over three million water meter readings per day, making it one of the largest remote sensing operators in Australia and arguably the most successful IoT implementation to date. While the company is still heavily focused on the water industry, it is now beginning to look at adjacent markets including agriculture and environmental monitoring.

    This case study describes the development of Taggle’s one-way water metering and remote sensing solution using LPWAN.

    Source: Based on a webinar delivered on 1 May 2018 to the Applied IOT Engineering Community of Engineers Australia by Mark Halliwell, Business Development Manager, Taggle Systems

    Biography: Mark Halliwell has a background in Electrical Engineering, and 20 years’ experience in business development roles with systems associated with SCADA, industrial automation, communications, environmental, AMR and other remote monitoring systems. He has previously worked for companies such as Advantech, Halytech and Schneider Electric.

    Introduction

    This case study describes the development of Taggle’s one-way water metering and remote sensing solution using LPWAN.

    While IoT developers and designers may get excited about what they can build into their latest creation, this can increase project costs by increasing the functionality beyond the user or client’s requirements. 

    For example, if water meters are to have built-in leaks alerts, they require electronics which can monitor the flow of water, parameters to determine what constitutes a leak, power and electronics to allow parameter changes, and the processing power to detect leaks and communicate the alarm back to base.

    Because water utilities deploy millions of water meters, every dollar of functionality in each meter adds millions to the cost of rolling it out across their assets.

    An alternative is to take raw consumption data, feed it to the cloud, and process the data to answer the questions that the user needs answered. This is a much more economical approach, and changing the parameters is simpler as only the analytical algorithm needs to change, while the meters remain unchanged.

    The decision on whether one-way or two-way communications is used should be based on the requirements of the application and the minimum level of communications required to meet the users’ needs. The same applies to the choice of communications technology. A commonly used technology is a low power wide area network (LPWAN).

    One-way communications is very well suited to the collection of high volumes of data, and applications such as water metering which do not require remote control or communication back to devices. Two-way communications is better suited to low volume remote control applications where users collect data from the field and respond with a control output using the same communications network.

    Company focus

    Taggle’s business focus is to provide a cost-effective IoT solution for monitoring of distribution networks. Their goal is to enable customers to use data, rather than collect data. To this end the company provides “network as a service” to collect data for users, and allow them to analyse and use it as they need.

    The company first decided to concentrate on the water industry in 2012 or 2013. The diagram below shows a rough snapshot of the water supply system from the point of capture, through water treatment and delivery to reservoirs at that time.

    5af4eb188399a_tagglefocus.png.8b4fd008b52252ca61f5e06d7c9d93f5.png

    Diagram courtesy of Mark Halliwell, Taggle

    In the top part of the diagram above, the network asset value and the potential for saving water are relatively low, due to the high level of monitoring.

    But the distribution pipe networks between the reservoirs and consumers’ homes have a high network asset value (in the order of 60 to 70%). The level of monitoring is also low, and limited to a small number of pressure reducing valves. This leads to a high potential for further water savings with improved monitoring.

    Taggle realised that by adding smart water meters for every domestic customer, the utility providers could very quickly get a sense of what was happening in the distribution pipe network, and a view of what is now called “dark assets”.

    Communication Systems

    Taggle’s proprietary network is a one-way LPWAN solution, however they are equipped to provide two-way LPWAN and have recently deployed a combined Taggle/LoRa Base station in Townsville. They are also prepared to feed narrowband IoT through their network as a service, and can cater to 3G and satellite communications when required.

    System overview

    An overview of the Taggle remote sensing system is shown in the diagram below.

    receiver.png.069d9ed59e05f4e0750f3493ff71349d.png

    Diagram courtesy of Mark Halliwell, Taggle

    Sensors are used to send data to the Taggle receiver network, which is then sent to a cloud server using 3G or 4G data communications where it can be accessed by users using analytical tools.

    Receiver

    Because the technology is based on pushing data from sensors to receiver, the receiver is the core of the system. Taggle uses a star topology with the receiver at the centre, which they describe as a very sophisticated software-defined radio (SDR).

    A high gain antenna allows the receiver to detect extremely weak signals, similarly to the way that mobile phones are able to detect the weak signals from GPS transmitters from satellites tens of kilometres away.

    A diagram of the receiver is shown below:

    5af4ec95116e6_receiveractual.png.8f194b4d430c12ed6b2f7b32ef24824e.png

    Diagram courtesy of Mark Halliwell, Taggle

    The software allows the receiver to be easily reconfigured in the field. Each of the company’s 300 receivers conducts a spectrum analysis three times a day, and these spectrum snapshots are analysed to find interference or degraded signal strength. The company uses this information to make changes via their SDR to optimise reception.

    The receivers also feature Active Interference Cancellation to block out any interfering radio signals. This mechanism can be compared to noise cancelling headphones for radio, although it operates a bit differently. As a SDR which uses Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum technology, the receiver has a very high capacity when compared to other LPWAN receivers.

    Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum is similar to the technology used for CDMA and is the basis for some military communications. It is a frequency hopping technology invented in 1941 to provide secure communications for guiding torpedoes.

    Transmitters

    When Taggle built its network technology with receivers at its core, the company recognised that there was no point in building a network and hoping that people would join. Taggle saw it as necessary to also develop transmitters which could be used on their network.

    Because the company had discovered a niche market in collecting data for water meters, or automatic metre reading, it started to design transmitters specifically for water meters as shown in the diagram below.

    transmitter.png.8fa9d091e5dba56494a93641e99939be.png

    Diagram courtesy of Mark Halliwell, Taggle

    The transmitter in the middle of the diagram above was designed specifically for the Elster B100 meter, which is the most widely used water meter in Australia (about 75-80% of domestic water meters). The top transmitter is an Elster (now Honeywell) meter with a built-in Taggle radio that is totally integrated. The difference shows the transmitters’ evolution over the past seven or eight years.

    Transmitters can also be used for pressure and level sensors, and Taggle has used them in Adelaide with SA Water for water cooling. They are also starting to be used widely for rain guages, both for water utilities and also agriculture. They are also used in weather stations.

    The company also makes more sophisticated transmitters for multi-parameter devices. Some examples are shown below.

    sensors.png.a2ab4382f8198f85a86e72329b1ba22f.png

    Diagram courtesy of Mark Halliwell, Taggle

    Example of system deployment

    The diagram below shows an example of the application of Taggle’s water monitoring system in the New South Wales town of Narrandera.

    narrandera.png.8c52d34317ab5fe88eeda408c1fa53b6.png

    Diagram courtesy of Mark Halliwell, Taggle

    That network comprises about 2200 water metres, with data collected every hour by a single receiver (shown as a blue dot in the middle of the diagram). The range from transmitter to receiver is in the order of two kilometres.

    The following diagram shows the wider area around Narrandera, Goldenfields Water. The diagram shows that there is a much bigger network in that area, with Narrandera in the bottom left hand corner.

    5af4ed7e0c14a_goldenfieldswater.png.d36b6200404a9fcb21c42f121dd44847.png

    Diagram courtesy of Mark Halliwell, Taggle

    The Goldenfields Water network includes approximately 12,500 water meters, spread over an area of around 22,500 square kilometres. The whole network is serviced by 30 receivers.

    This is a good example of how LPWANs can add value when collecting data from wide areas.

    Customer results

    Taggle’s first system deployment was with Mackay Regional Council in Queensland. The Mackay network comprises about 40,000 thousand meters. The data from these meters has told the Council that about 2.5% of properties have a leak (1500 properties per year). Armed with this data, the Council now sends out leak notices to ratepayers, which is good for public relations because the customer saves money and can address maintenance issues early to avoid structural damage.

    Mackay Council have also been able to use the data, to reduce the time to repair leaks from 150 to 60 days, and the overall consumption in the Mackay region has dropped by about 12%. This has meant that the Council has been able to defer a $100 million investment in a new water treatment plant by at least 12 years. Ratepayers have also benefited, with water charges on hold and expected to be reduced in the future.

    Taggle now has more than 25 water utilities as customers and has networks (including transmitters and receivers) collecting data from an area of about 300,000 square kilometres.

    This involves monitoring around 120,000 endpoints and delivering 3.5 million readings to customers daily. The diagram below shows the deployment of Taggle systems around Australia.

    5af4edb490e3f_tagglemap.thumb.png.82178d0b79c5451a06ca31fecfc46062.png

    Diagram courtesy of Mark Halliwell, Taggle

    Sources:

    The information on this page was primarily sourced from:

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