Posted on Sunday, March 22, 2020 by Allan Nielsen
As World Water Day highlights the effects of climate change on our water resources, what are some of the new conditions and challenges water utilities are facing – and how can smart metering help minimise the consequences of these effects?
Today, March 22nd, is World Water Day. In addition to reminding us all to salute the work done by water professionals everywhere every day of the year, it is, of course, an invitation to focus on the importance of protecting our water resources – something that is on all of us to do.
The effects of climate change
The theme of this years’ WWD is water and climate change. That the two are closely linked has become indisputable with some of the severe consequences we have seen in recent years.
One of them is the extreme seasonal fluctuations in rainfall we are experiencing as long, hot summers and mild, wet winters become more and more common. Take, for instance, the summer of 2018, which saw historically high temperatures and no rain across Europe for months on end. Increased water consumption for e.g. garden watering and swimming pools – by everyone at the same time – put a massive strain on utilities’ production and distribution of water. Add to that the enormous amount of water consumed for irrigation in the agricultural sector.
Today’s production setups and infrastructures are not designed or dimensioned to deliver that much water over longer periods of time. A utility can only extract, produce and deliver a certain amount of water before reaching its maximum capacity – which was defined long before climate change and its consequences for our resources became part of the global agenda. In addition, urbanisation has put even more pressure on our water resources.
Another very real consequence is the increasing number of communities facing water scarcity as the result of severe drought, as seen in for instance Australia, California and Cape Town in recent years. Enormous water reservoirs ran completely dry due to a combination of evaporation and having not been filled up several winters in a row.
A different approachThere is, naturally, a more distinct sense of urgency embedded in water scarcity. But ultimately, what the two examples above have in common is an imbalance between supply and demand. This challenge requires a different approach to both production and consumption of water. And that is where data comes in – supplied by a multitude of sources including smart meters.
Smart meter data can be used in different ways as part of the efforts to minimise the effects of climate change on the imbalance between supply and demand. For example, unlike static models and estimations, hourly smart meter data provide detailed information about where and when water is consumed, allowing utilities to adapt and optimise their production accordingly. A data-driven production setup helps ensure that water resources are utilised as efficiently as possible with the smallest water loss possible. And if data on pressure at strategic points in the distribution network is also available, it provides the basis for pressure optimisation resulting in lower energy consumption and less stress on the pipes.
On the consumption side, increasing the supply of water to match a higher demand (e.g. through desalination of water or establishing more groundwater wells) is expensive. It is much more cost-effective – not to mention sustainable – to eliminate excess use of water and lower the demand. But this necessitates more awareness among consumers – because you can’t change your consumption behaviour if you don’t know what it is.
With smart metering solutions, utilities can give customers access to their consumption data empowering them to take responsibility for it. This also supports a more proactive dialogue with the consumers, hopefully resulting in a better match between supply and demand.
Smart metering is part of the solutionSo, is smart metering alone the answer to all things water and climate? No. It is a tool that provides the insight to help utilities work professionally with a challenge affecting the lives of more and more people.
The future will only see more demands placed on water utilities to deliver under increasingly challenging conditions. It will require complex decisions and massive investments that must be made on an informed basis. And that makes smart metering an important piece of the puzzle.