The flow of water and the flow of information in digital convergence

April 25th, 2023

The continuous progress toward digital convergence in all sectors has led to numerous tangible benefits in the utility and multi-utility sector, but it is also bringing up several concerns, caused by the strong interdependence of economies and by the growing attention to cybersecurity risks.

Interdependence, ensuring the operability of essential services and cybersecurity led the EU to the establishment of the NIS2 Directive (Network and Information Systems Directive 2), a regulation aimed at improving the security of networks and information systems of essential services, including those regarding multiutilities such as gas, water, electricity and telecommunications. The Directive establishes common security rules and standards that companies must respect in order to protect their own information systems from cyber threats and to ensure the continuity of the service in case of cyber-attacks. 

It is widely believed that the introduction of the smart metering systems will lead to the emergence of new actors specialized in the collection, processing and interpretation of supply data. The benefit of smart water metering goes beyond the simple monthly billing data collection, with the goal of using numerical and artificial intelligence techniques to optimize water flows, to investigate the distribution network problems and to optimize the management of an always more precious resource such as water.

When the data collected on the service that has been provided grows from few annual readings to dozens of daily readings, then the data is shaped on the user behavior and becomes able to identify the specific end-users’ behaviors as well as their personal habits, especially if this data is cross-referenced with additional information available in the market, for example using OSINT methodologies (Open Source Intelligence Methodologies).

The presence of third-parties in the management of information networks, the presence of data that are becoming always more personal, and the growth of cyber-risks, outline a context that requires extremely high cybersecurity guarantees for the overall water distribution networks, for the metering instruments, from the data collection and concentration systems, to the data centers where processing takes place. Basically, the distribution and metering systems become a smart grid, capable of leading to a higher level of management efficiency and to a new awareness in the use of the resource.

Smart water metering is a concept of broad interpretation, a definition congenial to efficiency and management goals, and involves instruments with at least two characteristics: modularity and bidirectionality.

Modularity means that a smart meter can be identified in the union of two elements: the measurement system and the data transmission system. The metering system is independent of the dominant technology, and this is a very good guarantee to the principle of technology neutrality so dear to the EU (the principle is rooted in internal market rules – Art 34 TFEU), which can avoid lock-in and ensure equitable adoption of all technologies available today. In fact, today there are some emerging but not yet established technologies that will also require an evolution on the regulatory side,  like the so-called static systems. On the other hand, there are precise and established technologies, like different types of velocity or piston mechanical water meters that can use add-on or integrated communication modules (electronic register). It should always be remembered that the attribute of smart pertains to the data transmission and management component and not to the metering system.

Bidirectionality implies that the data flows could be both read, for all the activities concerning dispensing control, and sent back to instruments, for the activities such as management and flow regulation.

In this scenario, Maddalena S.p.A., one of the most important international companies in the field of water and thermal energy metering instruments, operates in an extremely complete and rigorous manner and is able to meet the security requirements imposed by the EU regulation on security and privacy. Maddalena is one of the few manufacturing companies within this sector that has had an IT structure certified ISO 27001 for several years, ensuring the attention that the Company pays to the security of the “only” end point. The product range also ensures different smart meter solutions, mechanical, electronic and static, all of which can be associated with different smart transmission modules and meet the most widely used communication standards on the market.

This article originally appeared in the April 19, 2023 Servizi a Rete‘s newsletter 

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