By the year 2050, the United Nations predicts global population will have risen to an astounding 9.8 billion people. While our population surges, a dramatic relocation is occurring, drawing individuals from rural areas to urban hubs. The drivers of this migration—economic opportunity and quality of life—will bring an estimated 70% of the global population to cities by the time we reach 10 billion human beings, according to the Population Reference Bureau. This means literally millions more people inhabiting the same cities we live in today; where networks like energy, transportation, and water treatment and distribution are already stressed. We can also expect the emergence of an expanded global middle-class, set to deservedly become prosperous consumers. To support this kind of population density, cities around the globe are going to require major improvements to infrastructure and efficiencies.
“Smart water” is one of six components that define a smart city; the others include energy, mobility, buildings, public services and integration. The goal of these efforts is to make the city more sustainable and efficient, according to Water World, and effectively improve quality of life. Smart water generally refers to a holistic approach to managing this priceless resource, and the infrastructure systems surrounding its sourcing, treatment and delivery. As we update and invest in our water infrastructure with more internet-enabled tools, and a wealth of data becomes available, it is vital that these networks communicate with one another. This will allow for not only the measurement of important indexes such as reservoir and groundwater supply, and triage of infrastructure updates, but will improve efficiencies across water-related disciplines. As an example, Water World cites predictive capabilities of flood mapping when looking at historical flood data paired with real-time and predicted weather and precipitation data.
By recognizing anomalies in consumption patterns for both the utilities and end users, cities can optimize and eliminate water waste and cost in delivery. The high-energy demand of a city’s water treatment and delivery networks are often underestimated, meaning that improving operational efficiency through actionable data will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut costs simultaneously.
It seems as though the impact these technologies could have for problem anticipation is boundless. Automatically prioritizing repair projects will help avoid major catastrophes like what happened to the Oroville Dam in California in 2017. As global water demand grows and climate change creates a question mark in the future of water’s security, it’s likely we won’t be able to afford resource losses at this scale. Perhaps a network of water treatment plants communicating in real time as a system of checks and balances could have prevented or at least mitigated the damage done to the community in Flint, Michigan.
Implementing smart solutions comes with pivotal—and sometimes costly—challenges and limitations. To update our aging water infrastructure with the most current technologies, tens of billions will need to be spent through both public and private investment. Juniper Research estimates $15 billion will be invested in software alone by 2021. In addition, smart sensors need power to take readings, creating a huge new source of energy demand. Small scale solar can work in some areas, but is it likely that cloudy Seattle or a Chicago winter will maintain enough light to power these tools? As these systems and sensors age or as technology improves, who will bear the rising maintenance costs of smart infrastructure? There are also significant issues of privacy to address and whether all this data and information should be available to the public. What sorts of security measures will need to be taken to ensure the safety of our water resources from terrorism and cyber attack? These are all questions that will require input from public, private and NGO stakeholders to resolve.
Though we do not have all the answers today, now is the time we must start investing in this smart infrastructure. On a global scale, it is even more important as developing countries are some of the most densely populated places on the planet. We must ensure access to the most powerful and modern tools available as industrialization sweeps the globe. To invest in anything but the most current technologies will be more costly in the long term and may risk human health and safety in dense urban areas.
Luckily, the cost of these technologies is set to rapidly decline in the coming years, making smart solutions more feasible and powerful than ever before. Frankly, if we do not steadily move in the direction of smarter and more efficient cities, we won’t be able to handle the overload of people that is inevitably coming in the near future.
By Gillan Taddune, CEO of Banyan Water
Interestested in learning more? Visit with Banyan Water at ELEMCON May 15-17.