Alain Dedieu, President, Water & Wastewater at Schneider Electric explains how to optimize digital technologies to deal with the challenges of water quality and water scarcity.
We are currently dealing with a crisis of water scarcity, poor water quality, and water supply system limitations and failures caused by climate change. If we want to secure our future, we must address water sustainability along with net-zero goals. We have assumed that there is enough water for everyone for countless centuries. After all, more than 70% of the surface of the Earth is covered by water.
However, just 3% of the water on earth is fresh – suitable for consumption and industrial use. Furthermore, just 0.5-1% of the earth’s freshwater is available i.e. not locked in ice caps, atmosphere or soil. Water has become so rare, that it recently became a traded stock exchange commodity, the ‘new’ oil or gold, as a result of the difficulty of accessing it in certain regions.
Yet, this precious freshwater resource is being used in an unsustainable manner. Take the issue of non-revenue water, which is water that is produced and ‘lost’ before it reaches the customer, due to leaks and mains bursts. While 17% of EU territory is affected by water scarcity, globally, 40-60% of water is lost as non-revenue water. Aside from the loss of this precious water itself, non-revenue water results in greater carbon emissions, costs and inconvenience for all.
The impact of long-term sustainability
The demand for safe, high-quality water for industrial and domestic use is rising even as supply is becoming scarcer. It’s not just the increasing use of water within industrial processes that is an issue – it is what happens to the wastewater produced as a result of these processes. Just one gallon of paint leaking into the ground can contaminate 250,000 gallons of drinking water. A gallon of gasoline spilt can contaminate 750,000 gallons. It is essential to ensure that we can stop and reverse water pollution – keeping our impact on rivers, lakes and groundwater to a minimum.
Not only is this issue of lost water affecting long-term sustainability, but with water services accounting for 30-50% of local authorities’’ electricity consumption, the impact of this sector on broader net-zero goals should not be underestimated. 80% of all water withdrawn in the US is used for cooling power plants and irrigation purposes and in 2019 alone, EU wastewater treatment and discharge plants emitted 27 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Water suppliers and industry must focus efforts on measuring impact. Deploying sustainable solutions to these issues requires data transparency to recognise opportunities to reduce NRW, cut pollution and reduce the industry’s carbon emissions. Without insight as to where impact can be achieved, action is fruitless.
Face the challenge with a clear vision
With the help of digital technology, we can effectively manage all water sources, including groundwater, fresh water, and recycled water, to meet all demand needs. For example, data derived from digital technologies such as IoT, AI and cloud systems can help predict water demand, ensure the quality of supply, and respond proactively to challenges. Today’s digital solutions can help to make the quality, quantity and impact of water visible by ensuring infrastructure works for us, not against us. When we can extract performance data from water’s physical infrastructure, we can plug gaps.
For example, advanced data analytics can deliver power monitoring systems that deliver energy savings up to 8%, while leak management systems utilise data from across various systems to detect faults and proactively mitigate leaks. Simultaneously pressure management systems use the information to control network pressure and alleviate stress on pipes.
Such digitally enabled asset management not only reduces NRW but also prolongs the life of infrastructure to reduce costly repair and replacement.
The ultimate team: technology, data and knowledge
Digital tools and data analytics offer unmatched prospects to increase efficiency when considering the size of water usage, for instance by assisting in the reduction of municipal water leaks or assuring effective irrigation in the case of agriculture.
However, this dream will only become a reality if we can build, operate and maintain sustainable and efficient water infrastructure, and manage it through the power of digital.
As a global utility, there are enormous amounts of data, from varied sources that can be harnessed to realise a more sustainable vision of water in our future. However, it requires all involved in the industry to embrace, data-driven solutions. Through greater industry collaboration, harnessing cross-sector data and sharing knowledge we can come together to innovate and set new standards for sustainable water supplies.
Time is a crucial resource in the fight to achieve a sustainable future, and we mustn’t let it escape our control. The time is now to adopt cutting-edge digital water cycle management systems to speed up data-driven sustainability plans. Planning, running, maintaining, and optimising water treatment infrastructure through digital transformation will benefit suppliers, customers, businesses, and the environment.