Water big data: How new data and IOT (internet of things) based technology are changing the water supply and distribution sector

The water sector is starting to use new digital technology to meet water shortage.

March 22, 2019
Water will never be enough. Existing water risks being partly wasted due to obsolete infrastructures and plants. The World Bank estimated that every year we lose approximately 25-30% of the water managed by utilities, which economically speaking, results in a $14 million loss.

This ever-growing issue, which is evermore present, can be solved by using Big data and the IoT. The way technology is used is changing the scenario for supplying and distributing water in cities, for agriculture and the industrial sector. Data management, explorative analyses, data monitoring and predictive algorithms bring to the surface important behavioural characteristics of highly complex infrastructure, allowing any eventual supply issues, failures and leakages to be known beforehand.

Digital investments in the water and wastewater sector will grow exponentially. According to a new Global Water Intelligence (GWI) report, the global market of control and monitoring systems will leap from $21.3 billion (2016) to $30.1 billion (2021). Investments for advanced management of big data will grow even faster, at an annual rate of 11.9%. In the utility sector, expenses for digital and smart solutions are estimated to be $17.7 billion (2018).

The GWI report demonstrates that the largest water control and monitoring system market through big data systems is represented by Asia and countries of the Pacific. The total cost of these two areas should reach $10.3 billion in 2021, due to urban population growth, particularly in Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines. Due to the ageing of network infrastructure and of water treatment plants, the demand for these solutions is also increasing in North America and in Europe.

One of the most significant examples of how big data is applied to water, has been introduced in India, in Bangalore, the Indian Silicon Valley.

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) uses data to manage, monitor, support and provide water supply to the city. The heavy growth of Bangalore's population, which has risen from 5.4 million people to over 10 million people, today, puts a strain on the city's water supply and distribution systems. The BWSSB created an operational dashboard that works like a "control center" to manage the city's water supply grid. Due to the fact that 45% of the water supplied by the BWSSB cannot be consumed, this solution contributed to minimizing the risk of theft, with live monitoring of substantial water flow changes.

California's Silicon Valley is ever more interested in using water big data. Techcrunch, the sector's Bible that analyses data and start-up trends, wrote that «companies working in the big data sector have greater possibility of creating value for their investors».

To this regard, let's quote two particularly significant examples. The first one is WaterSmart, which aims at changing the way the world uses water. This mission led to the prestigious Technology Pioneer award, which was appointed at the World Economic Forum, in 2016. To reach this objective, the company uses a set of cloud solutions that each utility user can download on their smartphone, to monitor water usage in real time. This information allows utilities to have a great amount of data on how users use water, which was something impossible before. They can foretell consume peaks, favouring real-time leak detection and monitoring. Consumers can spend less, as they can now use water more correctly.

The second example concerns the Israeli company, TaKaDu, also acknowledged as Technology Pioneer at the World Economic Forum. The company is a software provider that, by combining IoT technology and big data analysis, allows utilities to detect, analyse and manage events and network incidents, like leakages, explosions, defective activities, data issues and telemetry, operational failures, therefore ensuring significant utility management cost reduction.

Two concrete examples of how technology, together with a long-term vision, can contribute to protecting one of our planet’s most precious resources.