Achieving a smart water future

The world’s population is growing at an enormous rate. According to a new report by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), we could see 9.9 billion people on our planet by 2050. Considering that our population is currently estimated at around 7.6 billion, these predictions suggest the global population could be 33% larger in 35 years than it is today.

All of these millions of people inhabiting our planet need water. As the International Water Association (IWA) worded it at the 2016 World Water Congress in Brisbane, ‘humanity cannot thrive and survive without water. Cities cannot function without water’.

So what does the growing population mean for our precious water resources?

Inevitably, as cities and regions grow, so will their demand for water. And this rapidly growing demand is putting crippling amounts of pressure on our water supplies, despite resources already struggling to remain sustainable.

As the IWA also iterated at the conference in Brisbane, cities around the world are experiencing a wealth of problems when it comes to meeting the increasing demands of their inhabitants – many regions are experiencing record droughts, others are using up resources faster than they’re being replenished, and water leakages resulting from an ageing network still remain a significant problem.

The UK faces many similar challenges to those outlined by the IWA, particularly given that our rapidly expanding population is residing in the areas of most water scarcity. The regions receiving the most rainfall happen to be the less densely populated areas (Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England). Whereas the areas receiving the least rainfall, such as in the southern parts of England, are overcrowded. Couple this with other issues such as the huge amounts of drinkable water lost every day through leakages and non-revenue water (water that is processed in the network but is lost before it makes it way to consumers), and it’s clear the network is facing a very difficult future.

Could ‘smart water’ innovation be the solution?

Up until recently, the water sector has been reluctant to embrace radical change, and investment in innovative solutions and technology has been highly inconsistent among the sector’s water companies. But with our water resources coming under increased pressure, the water sector needs to act now and start looking at new solutions to age-old problems.

This is where ‘smart water’, which refers to a system of connected cloud-based technologies and solutions, could hold the answer to a more efficient water network. These ‘smart’ systems are being designed to enable water companies to monitor usage and detect and reduce water loss, by gathering accurate data on the flow, pressure and distribution of a city’s water supply.

One ‘smart’ water software system that is gaining global recognition is TAGUA. The system has been created to integrate with multiple solutions in order to help water companies manage products, such as valves and hydrants, on or off site, and see exactly what is happening within the network in real-time.

For the transition to ‘smart’ operations to be successful, there needs to be a collaborative effort between all those involved in the sector to develop and embrace new and innovative technologies

As data can be accessed remotely via the cloud, TAGUA allows water companies to immediately spot if there are any issues with their products, therefore reducing considerable amounts of time, and also labour and operation costs needed to repair or fix the problem. As well as detecting issues the system can be used to pinpoint exactly where a hydrant is located and can show individual product records in order to carry out regular maintenance checks. This allows maintenance and repair efforts to be more targeted, consequently helping to reduce water loss and provide a better service to customers.

However, for a city’s water system to become truly ‘smart’-connected, significant development is needed to create a range of ‘smart’ products that can all link up together within the network. There has however been recent investment into products and solutions that can integrate with the TAGUA software. For instance, a range of hydrant products have been created that can be controlled via a dedicated ‘smart card’ so that only those with a valid smart card can gain access, helping to protect the water source from theft. These ‘smart’ hydrants also help to reduce non-revenue water losses (NRW) as water companies are able to monitor users and consumption more effectively.

With more focus on developing ‘smart water’ technologies, the water industry should be able to manage the challenges faced by the sector much more efficiently. However, for the transition to ‘smart’ operations to be successful, there needs to be a collaborative effort between all those involved in the sector to develop and embrace new and innovative technologies. It’s clear that action is desperately needed to improve the network’s ageing infrastructure and outdated systems, therefore water companies need to lose the fear of innovation and change. This will allow the UK to continue its growth, while ensuring a more sustainable future for our vital water resources.

Photo by Queensland University of Technology 

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Mark Hodgens

Mark Hodgens

Managing director, Talis UK

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