A lot has happened since Archimedes invented the screw pump to move water uphill, since the Egyptians built their channels to draw water from the Nile, or since the Romans built their aqueducts to supply water to their cities, making a proper use of the resource, according to the needs at the time. However, the water sector has continued to evolve, using available tools and technology to adapt to the new challenges posed by water availability.
With the technological revolution that defines the 21st century and which we call 'Industry 4.0', we have the tools necessary to meet the challenges and make a smart use of water, in order to maximise economic and social well-being without compromising its sustainability. It is an undeniable and tangible reality, where the barriers between the physical and the digital world dwindle, to support an ever more complex integrated water cycle management.
ICT, a key element of sustainability
Water is essential for socio-economic progress, healthy ecosystems, and human survival. The shadow of climate change looms over a reality where water is the epicentre of sustainability and where water is ever scarcer. Thanks to ICT, today it is simple to map water resources and prepare precise models of availability and meteorological predictions; in addition, we can access freely up-to-date information on water at any point in time.
Example: The Automated Hydrological Information Systems (SAIH) of the River Basin Authorities in Spain are powerful tools to collect, convey, process and present data describing the hydrological and hydraulic status of a river basin in real time.
Big Data, the great ally in water management
According to the World Bank data, about 25-35% of water is lost due to filtrations and leakages worldwide, with an impact on water availability and the economy. Thanks to Big Data, the sector has been able to improve the detection of filtrations and leakages, monitor water use and even obtain data on treatment processes.
Example: Thanks to Big Data, the company Global Omnium manages 14 million data on a daily basis to make the best decisions in real time, decisions that contribute to optimising water and energy resources.
IoT, the brain of Smart Water Cities
Demographic pressures, high water demands and the ever-increasing water deficit in the planet are the great challenges for the sector when we look at the cities of the future, who seek to optimise integrated water management processes. Communication through the IoT enables careful monitoring of water resources information and optimised and efficient water resources use and management.
Example: For more than 15 years, Kamstrup has combined the exceptional precision of ultrasonic metering technology with remote reading and state-of-the-art communication based on Sigfox, NB-IoT, etc.
Augmented and virtual reality, a 360º vision
Hydraulic infrastructure is an essential component of water management. Water challenges require us to adapt to the needs of facility operation and design, and move towards greater control of such facilities. Currently, augmented reality allows us to have a virtual control centre for a facility that can be accessed nearly from anywhere; moreover, thanks to virtual reality, an operator can immerse himself in a virtual environment that recreates the facility.
Example: ACCIONA Agua uses a virtual reality and augmented reality system in the La Almunia waste water treatment plant, which enables optimising the operation and maintenance of the facility, and creating learning environments for operators.
Artificial intelligence, an X-ray image of needs
The water sector is increasingly more aware of the fact that natural resources are limited and we are using them at or close to their maximum potential. It is essential that we identify not just current needs, but also future needs, in order to ensure the sustainability of water resources. With artificial intelligence, not only is it possible to automate risk management, but also to simulate the behaviour of water networks under different scenarios and detect anomalies, thus improving efficiency.
Example: WatEner®, by the INCLAM Group, is an expert system that uses artificial intelligence, a technological breakthrough in the sector, focused on improving the operation and management of drinking water networks in the water-energy nexus.
Apps, direct communication with users
From the point of view of water services providers, one of the main challenges of the sector is ensuring the end user is satisfied. And to do that, the best thing is to enable fast and simple communication. Mobile apps allow companies to offer new services to customers, real time information or the possibility of contacting staff to solve any potential queries 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Example: Smart-Aqua, by Aqualia, is a mobile app for Android and IOS that allows customers to manage the services provided by the company at any time, easily and simply.
Blockchain, the strong link
Because of its large magnitude, the water sector needs information and knowledge exchange that is transparent, fast, flexible and secure, among all actors involved in the integrated water cycle. Blockchain enables closing water services purchase-sale transactions digitally between the actors themselves, at the same time as transparency and secure non-personal data flow are strengthened.
Example: The Catalonian Technological Centre (Eurecat) provides a blockchain platform that can enable new water services and strengthen the relationship between consumers and water management entities.
The water sector is already immersed in a unprecedented technological change. New technologies are having an impact on the way entities function, transforming business as usual, and creating and changing the opinion trends of end users. Entities dedicate more and more resources to prevent any potential risks and use the opportunities that Industry 4.0 offers for integrated water cycle management. When we talk about the water industry, Spain is the Silicon Valley of Smart Cities, and the limit (if there is one) is the one we want to set.