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Water and digital transformation: connective technology for a common property resource

  • Water and digital transformation: connective technology for common property resource
  • Industry 4.0 can and must contribute better solutions to water management to help ensure a more sustainable and efficient use.

About the blog

Fernando Botella
CEO of Think&Action.
ACCIONA
Idrica

Themes

Since its origin, the fate of humankind has been inevitable linked to that of an essential natural resource: water. Whether for human consumption, for irrigation, or industrial uses, water is essential for life. Water provides food, well-being, balance, hygiene, transport, energy and many other benefits for the planet and its inhabitants.

Therefore, water is an essential resource that, nevertheless, as humankind has evolved, changed from being apparently endless and omnipresent to being scarce and unevenly distributed. Historically, water has been and is a source of concern for those in charge of managing it. Its presence or absence has determined the location of human settlements and led to disputes, political disagreements and even wars over its control. And later, when technology allowed it, it led to the construction of large-scale works to store it, distribute it or treat it.

Far from being solved, water issues have exacerbated as the world's population increased, and are nowadays one of the major challenges for society. A battle that is fought primarily in two areas: On one hand, there are ethical aspects: raising awareness about the need to consume this precious resource in a responsible manner is a global need. We cannot continue to waste water wherever it is still abundant when elsewhere water scarcity leads to famine and serious humanitarian crisis. In this regard, the responsibility over water cannot continue to fall exclusively upon a few public managers and private companies. Responsible management of a common property resource such as water must be part of a global agenda where we all have a certain degree of responsibility.

On the other hand, industry 4.0 can and must contribute better solutions to water management to help ensure a more sustainable and efficient use of the resource. The digital transformation plays a vital role in this challenge. Without a doubt, many of the emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, new innovation processes, robotics, Big Data or the Internet of Things open up many possibilities for more efficient and sustainable water management.

In fact, energy waste, one of the big sources of concern for water managers, will be significantly reduced once artificial intelligence can determine precisely the times of the year, the month, or even the day when it is necessary to have bigger water reserves for consumption or for irrigation, so that available water reserves can be adjusted to the specific needs throughout the calendar.

Complex data analyses are also already being used to anticipate climate variables, precipitation or the cycles of phenomena such as El Niño, which have an indirect effect on water use as emergency energy resource, more precisely. Water plays a key role in many social innovation projects, and important progress is being made in that front.

But not everything is about technology. The collaborative nature of the digital revolution and the new innovation processes are well suited for a problem that is global and should be addressed from a global perspective, not a local one. The absurd internal wars over who 'owns' water resources must end, giving way to a new conception, more generous, that allows knowledge exchange and mutual support so that everyone can benefit. In the so called 'water war', the enemy should not be your neighbour, but scarcity itself; the objective should not be to control the resource, but to collaborate in the pursuit of efficiency.

Like water itself, whose endless flow branches out and is part of feedback cycles across the planet, sustainable and responsible management must follow that same global and interconnected course.

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