Being smart is the new ‘it’ thing in the water industry, and no utility wants to be left behind. The water sector is trying to catch up with the electricity and gas industries, which are way ahead having rolled out smart grids successfully in many countries. Adoption of a few smart meters here and some smart software there, though, does not make a water utility fully smart. Furthermore, when ‘smart water’ is mentioned, various ideas come to mind. From smart water utility systems to smart water technologies, smart water resources management and smart water networks, the scope changes slightly from one player to the next. It is therefore important to clearly frame what part of ‘smart water’ is under discussion. This report focuses on smart technologies that are applicable to the drinking water distribution network of utilities. (Please note that this report does not include smart technologies used for monitoring water sources, treatment plants, or smart technologies used in industrial settings.)
The rising cost of lost water is opening up new opportunities for smart technologies in the global water sector. Companies who can provide solutions to the problems of excessive leakage, inaccurate billing and network inefficiency can tap into a rapidly growing market worth $3.6 billion in 2013. The following figure summarises our estimate of the value of this market.
What are smart water networks?
The smart water concept rests on the intense use of data to optimise efficiency across a utility’s operations. It allows for faster decision-making and timely action (enabled, for example, by close to real-time identification and alerts on the day, rather than in weeks), as well as providing the means to derive guidelines for automation of tasks. Being data driven, smart technologies rely on extended use of sensors, real-time communication technologies, and data management and analysis software. The software is more sophisticated than what has been used so far in given applications, mainly because the volume of data is much greater than before (for example, smart meters can provide several readings per day instead of one reading every couple of months), and automation requires more elaborate learning, forecasting and modelling capabilities on an on-going basis.
Smart water networks: Tackling supply and demand
In light of population growth, urbanisation, climate change and water scarcity, utilities are looking into securing water supplies for the future. The demand for water is set to increase year-on-year, with withdrawals increasing by 18% in developed nations and 50% in developing nations by 2025. As many regions face the daunting prospect that their freshwater supplies are being used faster than they can be replenished, this does not bode well for water supply-demand balances for the future. Utilities around the globe are looking carefully at the future of their networks not just in the next 10 years, but in the next 40 plus years. They need to act to mitigate this growing issue that will significantly impact their ability to meet supply needs now and in the future.