Water scarcity is a huge problem in the modern world, and one of the primary ways to address this growing challenge is to take opportunities to innovate using digital technologies. 

Overall, the way we work with water needs to change — and one way to do this while tackling the causes of water scarcity is by digitalizing our water utilities. 

Below, I share my thoughts on:

  • The growing challenges of water scarcity 
  • How the digitalization of utilities can reduce water loss
  • Digital solutions for leakages and pressure management 
  • Designing the water network to address water scarcity
  • How customers benefit from the digitalization of utilities

Water scarcity —  an expanding problem

Water scarcity is a major problem in the world today. With exponential population growth and thus increased demand, this demand is now outstripping supply. 

Overall, we need to look at how we can change not only the way we produce water but the way we treat and deliver water — and many of those things can be changed through our operations.

Today, around 32% of water losses are lost between the production of water to its delivery to the tap. Often, this pollutes freshwater resources and also increases the costs of a water utility by 30% and its operation and maintenance facilities by 2%. 

One of the key ways we can reduce water losses and make an impact on water scarcity is to digitalize water utilities. For example, smart water meters can be used to identify where losses are occurring, and sensors can be used to detect where all of a utility’s assets are and to identify where leakages are happening. 

Plus, there are now several modern water technologies that can tie the information from these meters and sensors to a visual, digital platform that can help to identify where in the network losses are occurring so that the relevant people can take action.

Utility digitilization to reduce water loss

One of the ways to reduce water scarcity is to solve all of the issues that a water utility encounters, such as operational efficiencies, costs, and water losses. And to do that, water utilities need to change and improve the way they are operating. 

The fact that 32% of water is lost in a network is not acceptable anymore, and there needs to be a strong focus on how to reduce those losses while also addressing the water scarcity issue.

Digital solutions like smart water meters, smart sensors, and smart leak sensors can tell you where water losses are occurring. However, incorporating all of those into a software platform will accurately locate where water losses are occurring. 

Let’s take a look at some of the different digital solutions available to utilities.

Digital solutions for leakage

Software platforms enable you to integrate all of these sensors to determine where the losses are occurring. The first benefit of this to a water utility is that they can improve the speed of ALR — awareness, location, and repair time. And the first step of this process is being aware that losses are occurring. 

Platforms can then help you narrow down precisely where the leak is occurring — which helps speed up the time it takes to locate the leak. Once the location of the leak has been identified, the time taken to repair it can also be sped up. 

Overall, this translates to fewer water losses, less time spent detecting where the leak is, and less time and cost spent repairing it. This reduces the amount of freshwater resources needed, thus reducing water scarcity.

Digital solutions for pressure management

Another issue surrounding water losses is pressure — the higher the pressure in the network, the higher the water losses. This is due to the pressure forcing through a hole in the pipe which in turn allows more water to go through the hole. 

The ability to control the pressure in a network to keep the pressure at a minimum value required to serve customers while also reducing water losses is key. One way to do this is to use a platform that utilities can put sensors on to determine the best pressure, and which enables them to ensure the critical point pressure. This helps them ensure that their customers are receiving the flow while also reducing leakage.

Building a digital twin or replica of your network

Utilities can also reduce water losses during the network design process. When utilities design their networks, they also need a visualization platform to test what the design looks like and how it operates, and also to test different scenarios e.g. a broken pipe, or an increase in pressure. 

The ability to design and then visualize their network helps utilities ensure its resiliency. There are also software platforms with digital twin functionality that enable utilities to test out the design to ensure the minimum number of water losses possible.

Customer benefits from digitalizing a utility

Digitalizing a water network or a water utility also benefits the customer. The first benefit is that once utilities digitalize a network, they’re receiving data from the network which provides customers with insights into their water usage. 

Approximately 20% of the global population always have a broken pipe or a leak on their property, some of which are very expensive and can also have a physical impact. It’s crucial that customers can access the data to help them ascertain whether they are losing water to broken pipes or leaks as soon as possible. 

The digitalization of utilities, including smart water meters and leak sensors, helps customers not only understand their consumption patterns but also helps them identify leaks and broken pipes much more quickly. All in all, this helps them save money on wasted water and repairs and also helps reduce water losses.

Qatium Experts

Gavin Van Tonder is the Executive Director of Water at NEOM and is one of many experts that we co-create Qatium with.

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