Smart Water in 3 Steps
The buzz around building Smart Cities is all over lately – from Wi-Fi-enabled cities to cross-sector cleantech to big data capture. These abilities lead to increased efficiencies and increased revenue opportunities for cities. At this year’s Smart Water Networks (SWAN) Forum Conference in London, which took place in April, the discussion on Smart Cities focused on what role data focused on water management plays in the technological build-up of metropolitan areas of the future. The Conference featured over 180 attendees from 24 countries and speakers included 20 global water utilities and top technology companies like IBM, Cisco, Qualcomm, and Microsoft.
The main takeaway from the SWAN conference for me was the way Smart City efforts are first and foremost for the benefit of the customer. A customer’s ease of life is greatly improved through automation of traffic signals, for instance, or better wireless connectivity, or ease of parking. When it comes to water, it’s no different. Of course a water utility needs to be profitable, and big data presents revenue opportunity, but as Singapore Public Utility Commission director Michael Toh put it, “it’s about our customers.”
According to SWAN director Amir Cahn, “Water is a significant aspect in all Smart City efforts. A ‘Smart Water Network’ allows cities to better anticipate and react to different types of water network issues, from detecting leaks, theft and water quality incidents to conserving energy and tracking residential water consumption. By monitoring real-time information, city operators can stay informed about what is going on in the field at all times and respond quickly and appropriately when a problem arises. This results in a city becoming more efficient and reducing the overall cost of service for the customer.”
But what goes into developing a Smart Water Network? SWAN attendees got a glimpse at the necessary steps an average water utility should consider when implementing a “smart water” approach to building water system resilience:
When a water utility shifts to Smart Water technology, the first step is metering. Collecting data is key to being able to manage a utility’s assets. Metering allows for benchmarking to gage improvements as well as measurement of water use, pressure, and detection of leaks. This allows utilities to avoid apparent water losses and collect revenue in a fashion that corresponds to actual use.
Customers should understand that meters mean saving water, energy, and money. As Mariano Blanco, Director at Aqualia put it, “data management is the foundation for change.” While gathering customers’ data allows optimization of water use efficiency and accurate billing, it is also important for customer engagement, as Peter Yolles, Founder of WaterSmart reminded us. Allowing customers to view data in real time and understand how they can conserve promotes behavior change. Changing customer behavior through education is crucial to sustained conservation.
With rapidly changing advancements in technology, it’s important that a technology installed today isn’t obsolete tomorrow. To hedge against dated technology, the concept of interoperability, the seamless exchange of data between users, servers, devices, etc, was a popular topic amongst the SWAN crowd. Interoperability allows for opportunities beyond smart water into smart cities, including connections to energy and waste management, and even community safety, with no vendor lock-in prerequisite. One of San Diego’s leading companies, Qualcomm, is involved in a SWAN working group to provide their expertise around connectivity issues.
In California, our current drought threatens water reliability. Smart Water Systems can help identify quick opportunities to reduce waste and improve aging infrastructure in critical water use areas. Doing this enhances resiliency.
The SWAN conference did a great job at highlighting the problems of smart water development and identifying the three steps above to combat challenges. With utilities in attendance that have already successfully begun implementing smart solutions, case studies were plentiful indicating the “why” and the “how”. Being able to share technologies, strategies for motivating internal culture change, and methods for overcoming regulatory hurdles with international peers is crucial for a widespread shift to Smart Cities.
This blog post was written by Jamie Weisman, a water strategist for Cleantech San Diego member company OpTerra Energy Services.