The pressures on the global water sector are countless – climate change, ecosystem pollution, population growth, migration, changing lifestyles, agricultural productivity, technological advancements (smart infrastructure, usage efficiency, water reuse and recycling), water consciousness to improve water use efficiency or political challenges (governance, water stress, utility ownership models, system vulnerability, water rights).

Access to water is a fundamental human right. The need to take care of global freshwater resources, to achieve universal access to drinking water and sanitation and to prepare for water-related disasters is firmly embedded in the targets of several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

In the last few years, the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report (WEF, 2017), which is written based on the perceptions of world leaders, placed environmental risks above economic risks, with water crises among the top three global risks.

Nearly 70% of the world’s population is now living in cities and almost half of the global population is expected to live in water-stressed areas by 2025. The UN reports that by 2025, approximately 1.8 billion people worldwide will be living in areas of absolute water scarcity.

EU regulations

The water sector in Europe works under legislation and standards set by governments and regulators, the European Union and global organisations like the World Health Organisation. These regulators ensure that the water sector is controlled by well-run businesses that behave responsibly and sustainable for both their employees and the communities they serve. Regulators are responsible for setting limits on pricing and protecting customer interests, encouraging competition and investment within the industry, and administering the licensing regime for water and sewerage companies, as well as water quality standards.

There are four key areas of focus regarding water legislation: drinking water quality, economic regulations, environment and EU policy – all these aiming to ensure that water companies focus on consumers needs and interests while maintaining efficient and economically sustainable practices, with a focus on optimisation and innovation.

All these create an urgent need for innovation.

The demand for innovative solutions to enable more efficient use of available water resources, to improve drinking water quality, and improve water resource planning is growing. Due to this, some analysts estimate the global water sector to be worth 1 trillion USD per year by 2025 (according to RobecoSAM, 2015).

Either referring to incremental innovation that identify solutions to improve interaction and collaboration across all stakeholders (traditional and non-traditional), regions and related sectors, to regulations and policies that stimulate (even financially) water companies to innovate, save water or if we are referring to breakthrough technology innovation, the stringent need for innovation is there.

IoT enables a precise control over water resources data, thus allowing an efficient and optimised management of water companies. Smart water management systems can make a fast and significant improvement to the cost and reliability of water supplies, especially in urban areas and in agriculture.

According to various reports as a result of water leakages, pressure or network operations inefficiencies and expensive maintenance, water utilities around the world are collectively losing over $9.5 billion every year and spending $2.5 billion to detect and repair leaks. Of this loss, most of it is attributed to wasted operational expenditures on water production, followed by energy pumping costs and chemical costs of lost water. Adopting smart water management solutions could save utility companies between $7.1 billion and $12.5 billion each year.  (Sensus report)

As a logical consequence, the adoption of smart meter devices and meter management solutions is growing. The global growth is expected to reach over $12.03 billion in 2018. (Smart Water Management Market report by MarketandMarkets).

IoT is also gaining support for current Cloud computing infrastructures and water companies start turning toward cloud-based IoT solutions which will increase even more the adoption of smart water technology.

What kind of devices and sensors are needed in the water industries?

To be effective, IoT devices and sensors need to:

  • Be precise, robust, intelligent, intuitive, secure
  • Have a long lifecycle
  • Low-energy, low-power
  • Be compliant with common standard interface protocols: RS485/232, MODBUS, Wifi, Radio (Bluetooth/LoRa/SIGFOX), Cellular
  • Offer RTC (real time control) and RTA (real time access)
  • Be equipment agnostic
  • Use open source API driven data

Smart Water management:

There are various applications for smart water management such as water leakage detection, watering management through sensors, drinking water quality monitoring, quality control of pools and water reserves, etc. At present water companies have numerous sensors and devices which are able to provide input for detailed reports about relevant business critical factors – including water temperature, water quality/composition, water pressure, water flow, etc. However, most water companies still lack advanced real time reporting and prediction capabilities to monitor “changing” factors. As a consequence, there is a focus on real-time data extraction, reporting, visualisation.

IoT use cases and benefits for the water industry

  • Extra revenues through cost savings – water management costs can be significantly reduced by real time monitoring of all operations (including leaks, pressure sensors and IoT software analytics), consequently resulting in optimised asset utilisation, improved operational processes, energy costs savings, minimised human intervention, lower maintenance costs and lower infrastructure costs. Water issues varying depending on region. Eg: some regions receive more rainfall than others, meaning less need for water sprinklers, etc. However, one of the biggest costs associated to water companies is the cost of moving water, which is huge. By being able to reduce usage and thus reducing mobilisation, revenues are prone to grow. With the use of an intelligent IoT network the relevant information can be extracted and visualised, resulting in companies being able to incentivise customer to use water at no peak times when the costs are lower.
  • Productivity increase: IoT allows real-time control for smarter business decisions, reduced operating costs, optimised processes and resources and service time reduction. It also expands existing business models and generates new, more profitable and sustainable ones. The use of an IoT network extends into the field through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)  solutions and remote working tools.
  • Increased efficiency – water management companies and associations can use real-time operational control to make smarter business decisions and reduce operating costs.
  • Improved operational process control and monitoring; optimised and transparent asset utilisationsmart meters, sensors and connectivity significantly improve tracking of all assets, providing real time visibility into the supply chain; they can be used for remote monitoring of drinking water, fresh water, storm water and waste water process control and for assets monitoring like pumps, pipeline pressure, flow, and water quality in the distribution and collection system, or for predicting when and where these assets need timely maintenance or replacement.
  • Optimised and transparent asset utilisation – by using sensors and connectivity, water companies significantly improve tracking of all their assets, gaining real time visibility into their supply chains.
  • Real-time knowledge of water usage statistics and analytics for smarter and faster decisions – IoT analytics can eliminate data irregularities related to meters errors or registration problems, theft, or can provide a real time view on unbilled water statistics or any relevant statistic needed in the decision making process.
  • Minimal maintenance costs while improving safety and reliability of network operations– Plant maintenance studies claim that 30% of preventive maintenance activities are carried out too frequently, and 45% of these efforts are ineffective and may lead to asset failure caused by unnecessary works. A predictive maintenance system, which uses sensor data, can eliminate breakdowns by up to 70%, reduce downtime by up to 50%, and reduce scheduled repairs by up to 12% (acc to IBM research). Being able to easily locate all assets, to do real time monitoring and to control and run preventive maintenance on critical pieces of infrastructure and machinery, water companies significantly reduce maintenance costs and minimize response time in the case of leakages or other waterworks events

Type of companies in the water ecosystem:

  • Water companies – we already see some innovative water companies struggling to find pragmatic solutions to traditional and emerging threats to water resources and infrastructure
    • Water Corporation Australia – since part of Western Australia is one of the most impacted by climate change, with yearly reductions rainfall, they have a long-term plan to secure water supplies in response to climate change, named Water Forever. The program has three pillars, which includes working with the community to reduce water use, increasing the amount of water recycled and developing new water sources.
    • South East Water – Aquarevo is a water-efficient residential development; the solution includes an app that enable owners to track and monitor all energy and water usage in near real time on a single interface; they’ve also designed an intelligent pressure sewer system that takes wastewater to a treatment plant on the estate, treats it to Class A standard, and returns it to homes for irrigation and toilets.
    • Anglian Water – Since The UK’s water industry significantly relies on an ageing water infrastructure, with the added pressure of a rising population, growing water scarcity and complex regulations. Anglian Water uses various IoT solutions for Integrated Remote Intelligence, Integrated Leakage and Pressure Management System, smart meters for both residential and commercial properties to improve customer satisfaction, ensure zero water bursts or leaks, and reduce water consumption to 80 litres per head, per day.
  • Smart meter providers –some of them also offer software services or E2E solutions, that include sensors, data collection, network management, and analytics solutions.
  • Leak detection software vendors – they provide solutions that automate detection of network events like leaks, bursts, pressure spikes, and supply interruptions.
  • IoT/software companies – offering a horizontal IoT business model, focusing on general smart utilities IoT solutions
  • Telecom operators – all focus on smart cities and smart water management solutions.
    • Telefónica estimates that a proper water management strategy can save cities as much as 20% of the cost. These saving alone, ease the investment required to install sensors and modify water management and supply systems.
    • Deutsche Telekom Nb-IoT network is already rolling across several European countries and several solutions are currently being tested in their Nb-IoT Prototyping hub in the smart water management domain
    • AT&T is currently working with IBM and other partners, trialling out solutions that uses sensors and sounds to detect water pressure, temperature and leaks, bringing all sources of data together for complete view of past, present and future performance; it also provides smart irrigation solutions for agriculture, using IoT sensors and data about weather, soil, shade, plant types or moisture levels
    • Vodafone is offering Nb-IoT solutions for smart metering, optimised for route consumption and low energy

There still are ongoing challenges within the IoT Ecosystem related to security, customer education, IoT monetisation, interoperability, etc. However, IoT already proved to have the power to revolutionise the water industry and create sustainable solutions for global water supply.

We offer innovative engineering solutions and full stack development services for the connected world, covering the full spectrum – device prototyping, hardware, cloud connectivity, robust back-ends, user friendly front-ends, analytics, security, sensors, online service integration, web and mobile apps or extensions into IoT or IoT Platform as a Service.

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