A digital path towards a sustainable future for the water industry
Water is a scarce resource and our modern society is left with no choice but to realize its value to sustain life and our economies. While we still have a lot of work to do to ensure everyone, everywhere, has access to safe drinking water and sanitation, the water community also has to address concerns about environmental quality and a growing population, in the context of a changing climate.
A more sustainable world is possible. While people are at the core of improved water management, technology is available to help generate knowledge that will lead to better decisions. It is not surprising then that digital technologies are increasingly used in water and wastewater systems across the world.
The digital path forward
Water industry companies are increasingly expected to do more with less in a changing world where water availability is ever more variable, and both long-standing issues such as combined sewer overflows and emerging threats such as new contaminants must be addressed.
Digital technology offers an opportunity to optimize water services, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of utilities
Digital technology offers an opportunity to optimize water services, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of utilities so they can provide service excellence while meeting pressing demands: protect environmental quality, decarbonise their operations and maintain service resilience facing a changing climate.
Digital technology is directly linked with improved efficiency of water services. We can monitor water consumption by customers, detect leaks and take steps to reduce non-revenue water. Water use information, provided to the customer, can engage them in water conservation as they try to lower their bills and help them identify any issues. By going digital, water utilities can improve revenues: by means of reducing water losses due to leaks or fraud, through remote asset management and automated processes to lower costs, but also engaging in predictive maintenance, and anticipating changes in consumption and extreme weather events. Advanced hydrological modelling goes even further, enabling utilities to anticipate risks and optimize water and wastewater networks.
How do we know which digital technologies to invest in?
With digitalisation we have found ourselves immersed in a sea of data: it is time now to use that information to improve operational and environmental performance. Digital solutions are many and varied, and water companies have to understand their needs and how the solutions available might help them achieve the best outcomes.
IoT industrial platforms aggregate real-time data from sensors into a centralized system, empowering decision makers to solve complex challenges
Meet MonoM, dedicated to helping industrial companies become fully digital industries, both in terms of their assets and infrastructure and their processes. We follow a distinct line of approach: we will ask you about what you need to know regarding your water assets. As industrial data managers, our value lies in knowing each asset to monitor and what analytics we should apply, so we can obtain the data needed for our predictive AI tools. Our IoT industrial platforms aggregate real-time data from sensors into a centralized system, empowering decision-makers to solve complex challenges.
Water systems comprise customer water meters that can reach millions in a large city, kilometres of pipelines, drinking water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, and the list goes on. Water utilities can use advanced technology to monitor and control processes throughout the water cycle, from water withdrawal until it is safely discharged back into the environment. The digital transformation of water management assets and processes is already a reality, and technologies like AMI, GIS, 5G, artificial intelligence, digital twins and smart asset management will help transform the sector.
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. This quote, sometimes attributed to statistician W. Edwards Deming, and other times to management consultant Peter Drucker, illustrates the importance of quality data. Data are valuable assets, and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) are key to generating data.
Water meters and how they have evolved may be the most important advancement for water systems in the past decades. AMI not only involves data gathering, but also their integration and treatment using Big Data technologies. Cloud platforms monitor not only smart meters but other assets as well. But measuring is not an end in itself; the goal is to provide added value, when data are interpreted to enable more efficient management of water resources.
AMI not only facilitate water billing, but also meets other needs such as the detection of leaks and fraud, demand forecasting, improving customer satisfaction, carrying out simulations and reducing carbon emissions. We expect investments in AMI to grow in the upcoming years, as the stepping stone towards the full digitalisation of the water cycle.
Digital twins are virtual replicas of a water and/or wastewater system, whether it comprises the entire water cycle or a part of it. The notion of a digital twin goes back to the 1960s when NASA created duplicated systems to match the systems in space, then developed in the present century, after Dr Michael Grieves applied it to product lifecycle management. Digital twins have recently been applied in the water industry, both in drinking water distribution systems and wastewater collection systems. The challenge here is to integrate data sources that may include IoT devices or AMI, as well as SCADA, GIS, CMMS systems into a single platform that can provide useful information.
We expect investments in AMI to grow in the coming years, as the stepping stone towards the full digitalisation of the water cycle
The benefits of digital twins have become particularly relevant in the past few years. They allow optimizing water systems, both concerning daily operationsand future planning. It is possible to reduce energy used by optimizing pumping schedules, taking into account hourly energy costs. They allow utilities to provide better customer service with real-time detailed information. For example, warning customers about service interruptions due to planned or emergency works. It is also possible to identify critical users (i.e., hospitals) to search for alternatives to guarantee the water supply.
But that is not all, digital twins improve utilities’ capability to adapt to any circumstances, from predicted increases in demand to health emergencies and extreme weather events. They can minimize risks and operating costs, avoiding incidents to guarantee the water supply year-round. This capacity to adapt also results in greater resilience, whereby optimizing water management and energy use water systems contributes to sustainable cities that are able to face a changing climate.
As in other sectors, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming part of the processes in water industry companies. We generate a wealth of data and the human brain does not handle data as naturally, logically, and objectively as a computer does. AI replicates human cognitive processes to help manage processes more efficiently. Machine Learning (ML) is perhaps the AI technology most used in the water industry. ML algorithms lead to increasingly accurate knowledge from IT, OT and IoT (sensors) data sources.
Machine-learning models can provide answers to many water industry needs, including fraud and leak detection, and help predict consumption and water quality. They can be useful to improve pumping performance and the performance of irrigation systems. Concerning wastewater, AI can be used in detecting and even predicting sewer overflows, as well as to detect pathogens presence . This technology can also support customer service, reporting on customer reactions in social media and other fora. Chatbots and Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology help as well to serve customers better.
5G: revolutionizing communications
The 5G network will adapt to the needs of business, thanks to guaranteed service quality, enabling remote control in real-time
Up to now, 4G helped accelerate communications, but 5G is expected to revolutionise communication, leading to new concepts and business opportunities, as both the speed and the number of devices to communicate increase. The number of use cases is growing as countries start to deploy 5G networks. We expect that 5G coverage will be similar to that of 4G in the next 2 to 5 years, thus making it easier for the water industry to harness the power of this technology.
One of the important innovations to keep in mind is the possibility of connecting millions of devices in a small area thanks to the Massive Internet of things (MIoT). This is crucial in a world where there will soon be 26 billion connected devices. Another important aspect is the battery consumption of sensors, which could be reduced by up to 50% with 5G, thereby increasing their user life. The 5G network will also be more secure, with improved security protocols against cyber-attacks and uninterrupted coverage.
The 5G network will also be more secure, with improved security protocols against cyber-attacks and uninterrupted coverage.
Indeed, the 5G network will adapt to the needs of business, thanks to virtual networks with guaranteed service quality, enabling remote control in real-time. The flexibility of 5G opens new doors for the water industry, enabling for example, further advances in the automation of treatment plants. It is expected to democratize data, making it widely accessible, and answering the demands of citizens that want to be informed, not only about how much water they have consumed, but about water quality, or how much water remains in reservoirs in real-time.
Supporting the water industry
As the water industry embraces digital technology, it is essential to have the right technology partner to support this transformation
Digital solutions are crucial to drive the efficiency of water systems. They enable optimal decision-making to help reduce operating costs, anticipate risks and streamline resources, thereby optimizing water management. As the water industry embraces digital technology, it is essential to have the right technology partner to support this transformation.
With 50 years of experience behind them, Grupo Álava offers technological solutions that provide competitive value, improve processes and reduce costs. In order to support clients to meet the new challenges that drive industries to a digital transformation, MonoM, the youngest company in the group, was born in 2016.
A leading company in AIoT (AI + IoT) cloud platforms, MonoM counts on the experience of its parent company and is present in different markets with dedicated solutions, including the water industry. It integrates cloud platform with the most advanced IoT technology in the industry and advanced data modelling services. Its Deep Tech is based on the use of AI, Big Data, Cloud, IoT and Digital twins.