IoT Solutions for Industry

May 1, 2019
By implementing an IoT-based water management solution, Costco was able to reduce water waste and reduce its monthly bills.

In today’s era of sustainability, consumers are well-informed and increasingly gravitate toward companies that are environmentally-friendly, making water conservation a top priority. While a recent survey shows that a majority of large companies recognize the importance of having goals and processes in place to decrease corporate water consumption, few have actually implemented smart technology to manage and monitor their use of water.

For multinational companies expanding in various locations and utilizing a large portion of resources, it is even more imperative that they leverage technology like wireless water sensors to provide updates in real time to not only prevent water waste but decrease the cost of water bills.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how Costco implemented an Internet of Things (IoT)-based water management solution that leveraged large amounts of data to reduce the giant corporation’s water waste and reduce its monthly bills. The article covers the significance of installing wirelessly-connected sensors throughout a commercial or industrial property to communicate water-related data back to a cloud analytics platform for immediate notifications.

To help accelerate growth, Costco implemented LoRa (short for long range) technology which provided a minute-by-minute status on how much water is being used in its buildings. Armed with that technology, Costco is able to detect anomalies like spills and leaks and make real-time decisions to alleviate any issues and ensure optimal water conservation.

Finding the Right Technology

Implementing any new technology into existing legacy systems takes considerable resources and, in some cases, technology is not easily integrated. While the technology used was easy to deploy and provided flexibility, Costco faced a few initial challenges with finding the right solution to meet all its needs. Specifically, Costco was unable to:

• Monitor water consumption remotely and in real time.

• Receive alerts to leaks and other waste before they became a crisis that took significant resources to resolve.

• Identify a suitable transmitting device that also came with a durable, long-term battery life.

Costco recognized the importance of deploying sensors but was met with high-priced wired solutions in the market. As water meters are typically located in areas inaccessible to direct wiring and battery replacement, it also needed a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) for connecting water utility meters.

By placing water flow sensors both inside and outside of its facilities, not only was Costco able to measure flow and pressure through piping networks and equipment, it continually received millions of updates per day and sent real-time sensor data to a secure, cloud-based analytics engine.

Reducing Water Waste, Cost and Violations

After testing in its Southern California buildings, the big-box store installed this technology across its North American locations to get an in-depth view of how much water was being used in its buildings at all times.

Costco learned that rapid notification and response are vital to resolving any water-related malfunctions and anomalies. Installing easily-integrated, flexible and smart technology also helped to eliminate waste, cut costs and reduce compliance risk through sending alerts with step-by-step instructions for operators to identify, locate and resolve any glitches.

Get with the Sustainability Program

Through a real-time water monitoring solution with long-range and low-power capabilities, Costco was able to identify any unusual increase in water use and determine whether the cause was a malfunction, faulty equipment, or waste, and was able to stop any further damage.

This technology bolstered Costco’s overarching aim of protecting water resources. By obtaining a deeper, minute-by-­minute look into the amount of water being used in its building, Costco tracked its water usage in real time and was alerted to any water-related issues before they became a crisis. Over the span of about three years, the corporation saw an average of 20 percent reduction in water use across its North American locations. The company also saved millions in overhead operations costs and saw about a 22 percent savings in its water bills.

To continue its commitment to efficient usage of water, Costco has now installed the water management technology across almost all of its facilities and is continuing to reap the benefits of IoT-­assisted water conservation.

More corporations today need to focus their efforts on saving water and with the consistent technological upgrades available to enterprises, this initiative is achievable at a relatively lower cost. These best practices will help guide companies that are establishing a water conservation system:

1. Determine your company’s sustainability goals (with complete buy-in from the C-suite).

It’s important to first identify what your company is trying to achieve in terms of water conservation. Setting parameters around goals early on can be beneficial as they act as proper guidelines to keep everyone on the same page. Additionally, these goals should be approved by senior leaders to ensure active participation and enthusiasm towards preserving water. What’s more, adhering to sustainable processes does directly or indirectly increase competitiveness in the marketplace as well as improve operating efficiency.

2. Install technology that meets your water conservation needs.

Once goals have been set and approved, companies need to conduct the proper research to identify the technologies available to gather, analyze and present information to reduce any kind of water wastage. Along with being accessible and flexible at a low cost, this technology should be easy to incorporate within existing systems. Companies should also zero in on smart technology that collects data in real time and is able to process analytics quickly to provide actionable insights that prevent water waste.

Water is a scarce resource and eventually cities and governments will catch up and begin implementing IoT solutions to create a smarter, sustainable planet. IWW

About the Author: Marc Pégulu has been vice president of IoT in the wireless and sensing products group at Semtech since June 2015. He held the position of vice president of wireless and sensing products from June 2014. Prior to this appointment, he held the position of director of marketing and applications. Pégulu joined the company in March 2006 and was involved in several key technology initiatives, including LoRa wireless and software-­defined modem technologies.

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