In July 2009, unnoticed by all but a handful of people, the world passed an extraordinary milestone. For the first time in human history, more people were living in urban areas than rural areas. The trend continues and by 2050, 70% of us will live in the city.
The UN World Cities Report predicts that the number of “megacities” – those with more than 10 million people – will rise to 41 by 2030.
As cities around the world experience this explosion in growth, the need to ensure they can expand sustainably, operate efficiently and maintain a high quality of life for residents becomes even greater than it is today. This is where smart cities come in.
Making cities smarter – using technology to monitor and to manage their systems – is emerging as a key area of focus for governments and the private sector. This decade, cities around the world are expected to invest $108 billion in smart city infrastructure, such as smart meters and grids, energy-efficient buildings and data analytics.
One of a city’s most important pieces of critical infrastructure is its water system. With populations in cities growing, it is inevitable that water consumption will grow as well. The term “smart water” refers to water and wastewater infrastructure that ensures this precious resource is managed effectively. A smart water system is designed to gather accurate, real-time data about the flow, pressure and distribution of a city’s water.
Water management is an urgent, increasing concern, both in the United States and globally. US utilities reportedly lose $8.7 billion annually due to water loss, while one third of global utilities report that 40% of clean water is lost due to leaks.
It’s not just water use that can be monitored, but water quality too. Real-time quality data could avoid disasters like that seen in Flint, Michigan in the United States when lead levels rose to dangerous levels, risking the long term health of its 100,000 residents.
“Cities will look to adopt solutions to help them address the most critical issues in water loss and infrastructure to ensure scenarios like Flint Michigan don’t happen again,” says Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, IDC Research Director at Smart Cities Strategies. “There is a real urgency for targeted analytics offerings that are geared towards proactively addressing critical issues like lead detection, pipe failure and water management systems as part of a Smart Cities initiatives.”
A new tool available to city planners is an urban analytics package called the Intelligent Urban Exchange (IUX) application for Intelligent Water. The system helps to reduce what is known as Non Revenue Water loss – what most of us call leaks – by collecting and analysing data from around the water network. The system can also be used to monitor water quality and help optimise the energy required to run the system – which typically uses half of a city’s energy needs.
The cloud-based technology, developed by Tata Consultancy Services, helps utilities and water networks proactively identify and manage water loss, predict demand and connect into wider Smart City data systems.
“Smart water networks can save up to 70% of quality monitoring costs, and far more in avoided catastrophe. There is a very large opportunity for water utilities to quickly and cost effectively get on board with Smart Cities initiatives that integrate across city domains and drive adoption of smart water technologies,” says Seeta Hariharan of TCS’s Digital Software and Solutions group
Incorporating intelligent water technologies allows water providers to find leaks quickly. A medium-sized city distributing 100 million gallons per day with a loss rates of around 25% is estimated to be incurring over US $13 million per year in non-recoverable labour, chemical and energy expenses.
With operators able to make better and faster decisions, a 30% energy saving and a 15% water saving can often be the result.
As our cities grow, we need to drastically increase their efficiency if we are to adequately meet demand. Technology offers us the opportunity to build Smart Cities which can deliver that efficiency. Developments like the IUX application for Intelligent Water can help ensure that demand is met, quality is maintained while operating costs are minimised.