There's nothing new about water management solutions. The first aqueduct was built over 300 years before the Common Era. Likely, the Roman Empire would never have expanded as far as they did nor maintained cities as large as they did without the presence of water management. Today's cities are significantly more advanced and populated, and water management infrastructure is far more sophisticated — but there are some signs that the existing infrastructure in place isn't equipped to handle the environmental challenges facing us.
All you must do is look at the city of Flint, Michigan, in the United States to see how outdated the public water infrastructure can be even in modernised countries. And that's not just a local issue either. A study by the World Meteorological Society determined that over half of the world's countries have failed to create sustainable public water solutions, and there are few signs that sustainability can be achieved even by 2030.
The promise of sustainability is further complicated because inefficient public water systems can greatly increase carbon in the atmosphere. As the human population grows, it puts additional strains on ageing and crumbling infrastructure that was never designed to support populations of that size in the first place. Factor in the unpredictable droughts and flooding that climate change has wrought, and we're left with a looming crisis. If we want to adapt, we'll need to make our cities smarter, and smart water management controlled by IoT applications could be a key component in that transition.
While the threat of dwindling resources and climate change emergencies may seem insurmountable, the emergence of a phenomenon known as the Internet of Things (IoT) allows us to create more precise and manageable water systems than ever before. IoT can be applied to automate entire cities — in the same way that you might have an IoT ecosystem in your home that syncs up your television, security system, doorbell, and even refrigerator into an automated whole home network that's accessible even when you're out. Smart grids connect sensors and other critical components within a smart city's infrastructure to provide insight into operations on both a grand and a minute scale. Smart tanks, smart pipes, and digital metres offer an increasingly affordable and precise approach to water management that can deliver a data-driven and long-term water solution for smart communities.
Private owners operating smart cities or smart spaces have immediate financial benefits to smart water management integrated through the Internet of Things. City managers can track water spending over time, diagnose potential issues more quickly, and determine the most efficient water solutions with a smart city operations centre. The overhead for creating a smart water management system is low — but it can minimise overall water usage expenses, help identify problems before they become more expensive to fix, and reduce labour costs by centralising operations around a unified command and control centre. This is especially true of smart irrigation, which already demonstrates how effective an IoT-based smart water solution can be in the agricultural sector.
Homeowners and even renters can benefit from an IoT smart water management system in many of the same ways that a smart city operator can. Smart water equipment allows homeowners to precisely monitor their water usage and where exactly it's going, and they can result in reduced utility fees. In addition to the immediate financial benefit and the satisfaction of contributing to a smarter and more sustainable world, these water solutions can be particularly useful for the lawn, as automated sprinkler systems let you scale up your water usage and reduce the importance of using a landscaper.
Knowledge is power, but data without context is nothing more than just inscrutable numbers. And there's a surprising amount of data to be parsed from the relatively simplistic devices at the heart of a water management system that IoT powers. This can include everything from how groundwater levels fluctuate based on seasonal trends to data on how and when residents of a smart city are using water.
That's why a smart city operations centre is critical for helping a water management system excel. These operations centres allow a smart city to parse only the information that matters. They can concentrate all the information from within the urban ecosystem in one place and allow a more nuanced perspective on seemingly disparate data. By compiling this data together, city managers can evaluate patterns over time and based on geographical differences. At the same time, scaling these operations to the level of a particular city can give residents an active role in the process of building a smart and sustainable world. The town of Fountain Valley in California employs smart water systems that have reduced water usage by nearly a quarter, and a unified command and control centre provides real metrics to residents and creates firm definitions of accountability for successful water consumption.
The typical smart city employs different IoT applications and devices to create a comprehensive, functional utility management system, allowing individual communities to create water management solutions scaled to their needs. Here are some of the most common IoT applications of burgeoning smart communities.
Water metres have long allowed us to see how much water each household or business uses. Still, they required regular check-ins from city or state workers to gather any pertinent information. Smart water metres automate that process and provide practically real-time data on water consumption. On a city-wide scale, this can automate the process of billing customers for their water usage — and customers can benefit from knowing exactly how much water they're using and where it's being used. And since this data is uploaded in real-time, it allows potential issues to be identified and isolated with immediacy. This is especially true when employing a unified operations centre powered by IoT and artificial intelligence.
While we can control our water consumption, we can't control the weather. That's where smart irrigation systems come in. The increasingly sophisticated ecosystem of smart pipes, digital metres, and smart tanks can evaluate everything from precipitation to humidity to soil conditions — and automatically adjust the watering schedule for maximum efficiency. And since smart systems are scalable, advanced irrigation can be applied to everything from a massive farming operation to a single front lawn.
Smart pipes and tanks make up the core of smart grids for a city's water infrastructure — and they can largely operate on their own without the need for human intervention once they've been properly installed. Smart tanks help ensure there's always enough backup water in case of a major drought event while ensuring that flooding doesn't cause overflow. They're connected to pipes with smart sensors that can detect unusual anomalies, shut themselves off, and alert authorities when a leak is detected.
There is a huge need for new and innovative water management solutions. While it is not exactly an easy task, the solution is simple. We need to start making water infrastructure a top priority. Yes, there's some overhead cost involved, but we anticipate seeing more and more smart cities employing smart management solutions in the near future. Smart water infrastructure ensures a level of transparency for everyone from the city operator down to the average citizen.
Sustainability has also become an important element of the design industry, particularly in terms of green design and smart city design. The idea of the smart city is still developing, but the scalability of smart water management systems ensures its sustainability. By integrating IoT applications with smart water management systems, we can produce low-key, sustainable solutions for our cities that go beyond just looking beautiful.
At iotblue, we work with smart city developers to create bespoke IoT solutions that reflect real needs, including water infrastructure and smart water management applications, on the ground level. However, these applications' ultimate form will ultimately come down to what the individuals in those cities are demanding.
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