South East Water is currently undergoing a transformation aimed at reducing the cost of water bills and providing increased value to customers by better managing its $4 billion of infrastructure and assets.

Lucia Cade, Chair of South East Water’s Board, says the organisation’s approach to R&D, technology and transformation has helped reduce water bills to its customers by an average of $55 a year for 2018/19, compared with the previous year.

Lucia Cade, Chair, South East Water

The Victorian government utility, which delivers water, sewerage and recycled water services to 1.79 million people across Melbourne’s south east, is currently conducting trials of digital meters, sensors, platforms and narrowband IoT ahead of plans for more widespread rollout of the technologies.

Early in her career Cade built a computer model of Melbourne’s sewerage system in the mid-1990s to operate the network from a central control system. “We’ve been digital for decades,” Cade told Which-50.

“A big shift now that we are seeing in this current three-to-five year period that will transform the industry, is that we have managed to get the cost down,” Cade told Which-50.

Inexpensive sensors, long-term battery life, open platforms and cheaper connectivity now mean that utilities can make greater use of technology across their assets.

“Until now it has been really expensive and the business case just hasn’t stacked up,” she said.

The IoT transformation will also give the customers greater reliability and control over the their water supply. By harnessing new technologies and solutions, South East Water will be able to solve problems within its network before our customers even know there’s an issue, Cade said. For example, sensors on digital meters will identify any leaks to prevent mains bursting and wasted water.

“It is allowing us to reimagine how we design and build our assets,” Cade said.

Product Innovation

Aside from the large scale digital transformation of its network, South East Water’s engineers have also developed a number innovative products to solve specific problems facing the sector.

South East Water has developed a smart pressure sewer system controlled by an IoT-enabled solution known as OneBox, which acts as an alternative to a traditional gravity fed system.

Traditionally sewers have to be built for peak — first thing in the morning — which is five times the capacity of the flows if they could be averaged out.

OneBox installed

“The sensors allow us to optimise the flow through the system to match demand in a cost effective way and design the system to respond,” Cade said.   

That approach has allowed South East Water move homes in the Mornington Peninsula from septic tanks to a pressure sewer system decades ahead of schedule and at a reduced cost of $250 million, whereas the traditional gravity sewers would have cost in excess of $500 million, Cade says.

The company has also been piloting a rainwater control system called Tank Talk (pictured top) on its employees’ homes. The technology will be introduced next year at a new greenfield development called Aquarevo, which is a joint venture between South East Water and Villawood Properties.

The 450 lot estate in Melbourne’s south east is designed to reduce the use of drinking water by as much as 70 per cent, with each home to be plumbed with rain, recycled and drinking water.

Rainwater from tanks will feed into hot water systems or showers, and recycled water will be used in the laundry and for toilet flushing. This means that the right water source is used for the right purpose and drinking water isn’t wasted.

The water tanks in the precinct are particularly clever. Linked to the Bureau of Meteorology, the tanks know how much rain is predicted and if the tank has enough capacity to accommodate the heavy rainfall. If it hasn’t it can pre-empty water from the tank into the drainage system which will mitigate flooding.

Products like Tank Talk and OneBox have been commercialised by South East Water’s subsidiary Iota Services and are now being taken to market globally.

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