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By Dennis Abraham Thazhamon

Smart water is the solution smart cities have been working on to control and prevent the waste of water. Water conservation is necessary for smart cities to exist and function efficiently. Smart water solutions are growing as they give consumers the ability to easily monitor their water consumption and provide useful information to the public.

Water loss management is becoming increasingly important as supplies are stressed by population growth or water scarcity. Many regions are experiencing record droughts, and, others are depleting aquifers faster than they are being replenished. Countries in arid and semi-arid regions including those of the Mediterranean water scarcity and water stress are among the dominant crucial problems, seriously affecting any type of development.

Many of those countries are exposed to both economic and physical water security. Institutional constraints, aging infrastructure, lack of investment, poor data, and lack of quality services are just some key challenges that the water sector faces.

Smart Water Management solutions seek to alleviate challenges in the water sector by promoting the development and management of Information and Communication Technology products, solutions, and systems to maximize economic and social welfare without compromising the sustainability of water as a resource of the environment.

Over the past year, a new term has emerged in the water industry: digital water, which includes everything from measuring water flow “in the wild” to wastewater management and, of course, metering water usage. The world has learned very quickly that online data gives real-time solutions to all aspects of water management.

The Internet of Things (IoT) technologies like data analytics, cloud computing, augmented intelligence and blockchain give us new capabilities to analyze, automate, correct in real-time, predict and minimize risks. They have the power to help water and wastewater utilities address many of the challenges they face, including extending the life of aging assets, reducing leakages, attacks, or other abnormalities in the distribution network, improving water quality monitoring, service levels, and reliability of supply, promoting water conservation, or increasing revenue through operational efficiencies. While there is an increase in digital adoption in water, the sector still lags behind other industries in integrating new, smart technologies into the whole water ecosystem.

New technologies have the potential to deliver significant outcomes in the water sector. As technology capabilities advance, so does our ability to collect information from remote devices and correlate that information across diverse systems to help us achieve near-real-time situational awareness, or leverage augmented intelligence to interpret an array of structured and increasingly unstructured, text-based, or sensory data. Cognitive analytics lies at the heart of the ability to derive actionable value from these data and execute or automate the next best action based on predictive and prescriptive data science.

It seems that these technological advancements will have a major impact on utilities, but that’s the easy part.

Why Smart Water?
The great water challenges of our time, namely climate change, population growth, and increasing urbanization, and aging and overly stressed infrastructure, inflict significant pressure on water networks. The water industry, and in particular water utilities, needs to adapt to meet the emerging demands of a dynamic, highly deregulated, and competitive environment within the context of a changing climate. In such an environment, water utilities need to continue to deliver essential services including safe and secure drinking water, stormwater management, and wastewater management.

Addressing these ongoing and growing challenges requires a transformation to optimize its processes and operational efficiency. In fact, these challenges and their increasing complexity necessitate a paradigm shift to the next generation of water systems beyond traditional water and sewerage infrastructure. The development of new systems is against the background of cyber-physical systems, digitalization, and big data where software, sensors, processors, communication, and control technologies are increasingly integrated, to enable informed decisions in an increasingly changing, complex, and uncertain world.

The paradigm shift for the water industry is to move towards:

A. Offering new services ranging from resource recovery to newer digital approaches as a consequence of integrating organizational silos to offer dynamic and sustainable real-time decision-making.
B. Considering a systems approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of water across sectors and how decision-making can improve benefit-sharing, and
C. Decentralization or distributed systems to maximize resource recovery, deal with rapidly growing cities, and dampen the propagation of failures.

To support these shifts in how water services are operated, water utilities will be expected to invest in appropriate measures, which include the digitalization of the way water is managed, distributed, and regulated.

The Digital Future for Water
When it comes to operational changes, the water industry is known to be conservative, slow, and risk-averse. This reluctance partly stems from the non-competitive nature of the water industry, among other factors. Too often, utilities only address shortages when a crisis hits. And although some regulators are beginning to push utilities toward improved customer-service practices, many still fail to put the customer and efficiency at the center.

However, digital water-management tools represent a paradigm shift for the water industry from being reactive to being proactive and optimized. This shift is analogous to the adoption of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology within retail industries such as banking and mobile phones – which completely revolutionized the way those companies deal with customers.

Water utilities recognize that water is a crucial commodity and are beginning to harness the vast quantity of network data available to improve customer service, reduce water loss, and improve water efficiency. Looking forward, utilities can more efficiently serve their customers through better business decisions influenced by this data and uncover ways to connect to other systems – traffic, energy, and so forth – that are sprouting up in increasingly smarter cities.

The water industry of the future will be smart and energy-efficient. Networked, intelligent systems will help make better use of energy, avoid unnecessary water losses and minimize the consumption of resources. In addition to automation and drive technology, the key components of water are software solutions for smart water. These help generate relevant data for the water industry and make it available and also offer fact-based data analysis throughout the entire lifecycle of the system.

Digitalization Opportunities
Digital Water explores digital opportunity across the wide spectrum of the water landscape, extending beyond the remit of municipal water and wastewater organizations, to include agriculture, industry, and the economy as a whole. According to Digital Water, those opportunities include:

  • Exploiting vast amounts of real-time data to create enhanced actionable insight, which in turn leads to better decision making. Advances in sensor technology offer the potential for the acquisition of data from a more distributed and diverse range of sources.
  • Employing digital insight to improve business process performance by making individual steps more efficient, eliminating steps, or reconfiguring a business process as a whole.
  • Combining developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics provides the means to reconfigure business processes, increasing efficiency.
  • Utilizing digital techniques to enable the creation of new markets, and hence the disruption of existing markets. Digital approaches can create new markets by making information visible, doing so in a timely way, and enabling transactions.
  • Smart water network solutions improve the efficiency and reliability of the physical water infrastructure by better collecting and analyzing data. The use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and data analytics not only help to better manage infrastructure and reduce non-revenue water losses but also supports important changes to the ways in which water utilities and companies operate. Smart end-to-end water networks offer the opportunity to improve productivity and efficiency while enhancing customer service.

Despite the above, no one can be completely sure and predict which direction the Water Industry will take over the coming years and decades. However, it could be highly beneficial for businesses to take a closer look at some of the most likely challenges and scenarios the industry is facing in order to determine how to embrace the opportunities.

By empathizing with these five challenges and opportunities, we hope to trigger conversations about some of the future scenarios impacting the water industry.

Applying IoT to Wastewater Management Problems
Think of “IoT” as a mindset: connect physical objects and spaces to the internet to monitor and utilize them at scale more effectively. Creating and using a “digital copy” of physical things is simply more effective than trying only to use the physical object. IoT in wastewater management is an application of that mindset.

A wastewater facility installs smart sensors at various points in its water management system. These sensors collect data on water quality, temperature variations, pressure changes, water, and chemical leaks, and they send those data back to a web application that synthesizes the information into actionable insights.

Smartphones and tablets can host instances of cloud-connected web apps, which are often front-ends for a larger IoT Platform system. Those systems render the IoT sensor data in real-time. The point is that connecting physical objects to a central hub through the internet allows fewer people to manage more objects and processes – and to do so more effectively – more data, more potential for insight, fewer people, and fewer errors.

About the Author
Dennis Abraham Thazhamon is the Managing Director of Josab India. He has been awarded as “51 Fabulous Global Water and Water Management Leaders” award organized by ET Now on World CSR Day on 18th February 2020 in Mumbai. He is a water expert and focuses on sustainable living for everyone. He is heading the Swedish firm JOSAB’s endeavor into India and Southeast Asian regions. He is currently working towards making a difference in the lives of the people via the natural treatment of water so that people can continue enjoying good health by drinking treated natural water.

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