OSIsoft and Microsoft improve San Francisco water services with the cloud

Sean Dudley
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley on 01 May 2015
OSIsoft and Microsoft improve San Francisco water services with the cloud

With the US state of California in the midst of a record drought, state governor Jerry Brown has told a number of public agencies to lower their water usage by as much as 25%.

“That’s a significant hit for a lot of agencies, including ours,” said Tommy T. Moala, assistant general manager at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “How do you manage that? How do you track the usage when you have one person living in one house, and you’re going by the households, or what if there’s six people living in the next house? So are you allowing for the 600 gallons per person? And how do you use that data, and how do you even track that?”

Moala says that the key lies in data, and the agency needs access to vital insights.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is working with OSIsoft, a global provider of smart sensor platforms based in the San Francisco Bay area. OSIsoft is working with the commission to ensure water gets to customers in the most efficient way possible.

“The average person uses 100 gallons of water a day,” Moala said. “In San Francisco, we’re down somewhere around approximately 40 gallons per person. So we’ve done most of the conservation that we can. Now, we have to look at other resources. There’s no new dams going up. We need to manage the resources that we have. The longer the drought lasts, it’s going to change how we do business. Right now, it costs US$1,000 for the delivery of an acre of water from the Sierras. Recycled water is about ten times as much. Now, if the drought continues, we’ll have no choice but to do recycled water. We might have to do desalination. It just opens the door to different types of treatment to be able to provide water.”

With instant access to crucial information, the commission can make quicker decisions about how to move water around their system, how to reduce the number of overflows, and how to improve water quality.

The commission runs four treatment plants across San Francisco. With access to this vital data, staff can identify where it will rain heaviest, and take advantage of the system that’s in place. Some plants only start working during a storm and are generally not staffed. 

“The question is, when do you staff it?” said Moala. “In the past, we’d put people out there and there was no rain. So you’ve just put four people out there to run a treatment plant that’s not going to come online, because the rain either didn’t materialise or wasn’t large enough for a storm. If we had better data that we could do a much better job staffing. We want to be real time and spend the money responsibly, whether it’s for labour, parts, or what have you. Just in staffing alone, it’ll save us a lot of money.”

OSIsoft builds real-time infrastructure for public agencies such as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and enables them to manage critical information.

“The PI System is a real-time infrastructure that brings real-time data from sensors and equipment up to a level where an engineer or a business user can drive insight out of it,” said Ronan de Hooge, a cloud computing architect for OSIsoft. “What that typically comes down to is there’s a set of storage systems or analytic systems, but the real important part is that it’s in real time. It makes the operational data accessible to business users at a higher level.”

OSIsoft’s technology enables reliable record-keeping for customers, meaning they can trace problems back to the root cause. This record-keeping system is held in the Microsoft cloud, meaning it is scaled over multiple locations and data centres.

“The scale of that data is in terabytes,” said de Hooge. “It’s something that we really can’t do ourselves. We need Microsoft to really come in and provide solutions and join our data with other data sources available within the cloud. Azure Machine Learning gives them a way to use industry-standard and off-the-shelf algorithms to really analyse that data using Azure streaming analytics, where you can take those operational insights and actually bring them into the real-time domain.”

Moala says that thanks to OSIsoft and Microsoft’s services, the commission can focus on the task at hand – delivering water to citizens.

“The consumer expects every single day, at any given moment, they can turn on the faucet and water’s going to come out,” Moala says. “They expect to take a shower every single day. They might have to take a shorter shower, because that is their reality. They expect the services that we provide to be there 24/7. They expect to pay the lowest rate available for that precious water. It may be a lot more difficult with the resources becoming scarcer in the future, for us, to deliver those services, but it is a reality that we have to deal with.”

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