Vitens sheds light on the path to smart water

Smart water utilities


Dutch utility Vitens is one of the pioneers in the area of smart water management. Keith Hayward heard from the company’s innovation manager Jan Gooijer about progress, plans to share insights at a symposium later this year, and the utility’s wider innovation agenda.

Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland (© Natalia Balanina / Shutterstock)
Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland, where Vitens is implementing its Friesland Live project (© Natalia Balanina / Shutterstock)

As a lead participant in the Smart Water 4 Europe research initiative, Dutch utility Vitens has credentials as one of those at the forefront of helping to secure progress with smart water – the application of data-driven approaches to water utility management.

The EU-funded project has been built around on-the-ground work at demonstration sites in Spain, the UK, France and the Netherlands (see Aqua Strategy, February 2016, p22-23). It draws to a close later this year, and Vitens is hosting the final project symposium, to be held during the Amsterdam International Water Week in November.

‘As part of Smart Water 4 Europe, we carried out four years of research into the smart grid, both on leak detection and also on water quality,’ explains Jan Gooijer, innovation manager at Vitens. ‘Essentially, we tried a lot of different types of sensors to see if they can give us some insight into the black box of our distribution network.’


The case for change

Vitens’ work on smart water was initially focused on a small part of its network. Given the name of the Vitens Innovation Playground, this featured a high density deployment of sensors. ‘Later on we expanded the area to the entire province of Friesland,’ says Gooijer. This expanded project is known as Friesland Live. This represents around 9000km of distribution network, compared to the entire Vitens 50,000km of network across five provinces.

The initial premise of the work was that the traditional approach to managing a distribution network is very much a reactive one. A utility responds to a leak when it happens. For water quality, the utility’s picture is based on periodic monitoring at the point of use for a selection of customers. ‘When you monitor water quality only afterwards, then you have no insight into the water quality that people are actually drinking at the moment,’ says Gooijer. Not only this, no real attention is paid to what happens to the water quality between the point it goes into supply and the point of use. ‘Essentially we expected that the water quality would not change within the distribution network,’ he adds.

‘From a customer perspective, we wanted to be more proactive,’ says Gooijer. The aims included being able to detect leaks earlier, prevent them from growing, and gaining greater assurance around water quality. ‘That was the business case for starting to develop the smart grid,’ he says, adding: ‘We have been doing this now for about four years. It has provided us with a lot of insight.’


Network insights

‘One insight is that water quality is far from constant in the distribution network. A lot of processes happen there, and only now are we starting to discover what they are,’ says Gooijer. ‘That’s a first step to being able to act on them.’

Different sources put into the supply have different water qualities to begin with, for parameters such as conductivity. Forward and backward flows within the distribution network mean there is water of different ages present. On top of this, the water quality of one source may influence the quality of water from another source. Water quality monitoring in the network allows sense to be made of all of this, including whether a water quality change relates to a potentially significant issue such as the presence of organic substances.

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The Smart Water 4 Europe seminar

The seminar 'Smart water management - unravelling the value of sensors and data', to be hosted by Vitens, will mark the end of the Smart Water 4 Europe project. It will be held during Amsterdam International Water Week.

Date: 2 November 2017

Venue: RAI Amsterdam

For more information, and to register, visit:


  • Netherlands, Vitens, smart water utilities, water supply