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How IoT Can Address Global Water Challenges

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The world’s population is growing, and so is the need for water, food and energy. By 2030, there will be 1 billion more people on the planet and global demand for water could outstrip supply by 40%, according to the United Nations. Not only is the need for water escalating, the utilities and companies that supply that water face major operational challenges daily.

Delivering a stable and reliable water supply into the future requires new technologies and systems that are capable of monitoring water resources in real-time. It is here that Internet of Things (IoT) solutions can address the many issues facing existing water supply infrastructure around the world.

IoT Can Improve Water Infra Challenges

Due to the impact of climate change and as the global population grows; existing water infrastructure is increasingly under enormous pressure. The 2020 UN World Water Report highlighted that water use has increased six fold in the past century and continues to rise, while climate breakdown means that more areas of the world will see stress on their water supplies. This includes regions such as Europe, Asia and North America, where supplies were previously abundant.

Experts believe, IoT solutions such as smart devices and sensors can make water management more efficient and safer for users through real-time data collection, alerting and actions to prevent issues from occurring.

Another critical issue that can be improved with the use of the technology is mitigating water loss, delivering enhanced water storage solutions, as well as improving meter reading, which will drive accurate billing.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI) water infrastructure―treatment plants, pipes, and sewer systems―is in a state of disrepair around the world. The WRI also noted in a 2017 report that in the USA alone, 6 billion gallons (22 billion litres) of treated water were lost per day.

Lessons from South Africa

IoT.nxt have devised and installed two IoT technology solutions in South Africa since the start of the year to improve water resource management. A subsidiary of Vodacom Group, the company  is developing new approaches to address challenges faced by managers of water facilities.

“The introduction of IoT technology to better manage water infrastructure has the potential to enhance efficiencies across the entire water supply chain. World Water Day, celebrated on 22 March this year will amplify the global challenges, especially around the management of infrastructure. Those challenges informed the development of our solutions and we have recorded positive results with the projects already implemented,” says Richmond Nkambule, Business Development, Sales, at IoT.nxt.

The first project rolled out at the start of the year is at a district municipality in a rural area of South Africa that provides the municipality with a real time view of its water infrastructure. Faulty meters and accurate consumption can now be monitored, maintenance teams will receive instant alerts via email or SMS about faults, and corrective action can be taken in a very short time frame. Alerts include the GPS location of the meter, its status, flow rates and consumption.

“South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world and increasingly, municipalities and other utility service providers are looking to innovative end-to-end connected solutions that enable utility operations like water and electricity to run more efficiently, reliably, safely, and cost-effectively. Our modem-driven, end-to-end software solution helps clients to implement advanced state-of-the-art analytics, revenue assurance and protection, and smart pre-payment to improve utilities’ operational performance”, says Peter Malebye, Managing Executive for IoT at Vodacom Business.

The other solution, a Smart Water Storage Management Solution, was installed at a large pharmaceutical company in Johannesburg to drive efficiencies, reduce risk and help create water security within its office park. The solution provides the company with a complete view of water levels in eight water tanks and sends alarms notifying the facilities manager when water from the municipality has stopped. It also provides a complete view of water pump statuses and alerts when the pumps stop working.

“The use of technology, with other initiatives such as greater focus on the treatment and re-use of wastewater, can dramatically improve the threatened water security situation around the world. Our next focus is on solutions for agriculture, a major consumer of water globally. Our agriculture application is in the final stages of development, and we are aiming at testing and then launching it in the second quarter of the year,” Nkambule says.

IoT: Protect and restore water in India

While South Africa can be a strong case in point, water mismanagement and scarcity is a global concern and is rapidly growing in countries such as India.

George Rajkumar, Country President, Grundfos India states, “This is a good time for us to pause and revaluate our relationship with water as it is one of the most important natural resources and we depend so much on it. Many Indian cities and regions are battling with various water issues like water scarcity, flooding and lack of clean water. Therefore there is an urgency to protect, restore and conserve our water resources.”

Grundfos is leveraging IoT technology as an enabler to help improve water management and reduce energy consumption. The IoT presents new improvement opportunities in asset management such as real-time remote monitoring, intelligent water metering, or preventative maintenance driven by alarming. It represents opportunities to decrease lifetime maintenance costs, improve environmental response times, improve community response services and communication, and ensure consistent water supply to remote and urban areas through reliable monitoring.

“The Government, private industries, civil society and citizens too have a role to play here – from robust policies, sustainable technologies, productive grassroot level initiatives to reduce consumption at home and have a holistic approach to manage water better. We need to look at water management with a circular economy perspective and find ways in which we efficiently use water, recycle and reuse it,” says Rajkumar.

Initiatives like this will ultimately help the water industry meet new demand, better manage assets and services, and maintain operational costs all the while providing faster, better customer experience.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com