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Social Innovation

Smart water in smart cities

Making our water smart is just as important as making our cities smart. We look here at how smart water systems will work and how they will help us to conserve this precious resource.

How much water do you consume a day – a glass of water here and a shower there?

Do you ever think about how that water has travelled from the source to your tap?

This requires a huge amount of energy and yet this is often forgotten. As cities aim to become smarter and more sustainable, reducing the amount of energy we use in our water systems is critical.

By 2020, it is predicted that 56% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas and these cities will have to cope with the increased strain on resources, including access to clean water. The need to conserve this precious resource is more pressing than ever – according to the World Health Organisation, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025. So how do we take advantage of the opportunities presented by the IoT era and use smart technology to make our consumption of water as efficient as possible?

Enter…smart water! The buzz around smart cities is all around us, but we need to make water smart before smart cities can become a true reality. In order to make this first step towards smart water, ageing water infrastructures, some of which have been in place for over a hundred years, need to be updated and upgraded with IoT technologies, allowing them to come online and communicate with other parts of the system and city.

But what are smart water systems and how do they work? Smart water systems, much like smart energy systems, use the IoT enabled sensors to collect real-time data. This enables the optimisation of water facilities, by detecting leaks or monitoring how water is being distributed across the network and allows people to make more informed decisions about water management. For example, these smart sensors can detect leaks in water pipes and immediately alert engineers to take action and mitigate the consequences. This is hugely valuable, considering that it has been estimated that 3.3 billion litres of water is lost each day in England and Wales through leaks in infrastructure.

This data is even more valuable when shared. For example, watershed management teams can use predictive technology to gain insights into when and which areas are likely to flood, before this actually occurs. By sharing this information, transport departments can then pre-emptively warn people about this and divert traffic accordingly. Predictive intelligence enabled by IoT and big data is going to have a huge impact on cities, saving time and conserving resources.

Real time water management is leading to huge efficiency savings. Last year, UK utility South West Water asked Hitachi Consulting to optimise its water operations by integrating IoT solutions into the utility’s network, so it could manage its operations more effectively using near real-time data / analytics. Using cloud technology, Hitachi is helping the company to manage the reliability of its network and improve the service it delivers to customers.

These benefits are extended to consumers too. Smart water technology is allowing consumers to monitor their usage remotely via apps. It can tell them when there is a leak, allowing people to resolve the problem much sooner and prevent water from being wasted unnecessarily. Smart water devices are becoming more and more popular, giving consumers the power to monitor their own water consumption and make decisions based on the data they are seeing, helping them to use water more sustainably as well as cutting costs.

As we strive to make the most of the opportunities available to us through technology to become sustainable, it is important that we do not forget to include the resource which, after all, we physically cannot live without. Upgrading water systems with smart technology will not only help manage the increased demand from mass urbanisation but will help to reduce the amount of water wasted and make our consumption more efficient.