Smart Water Network Innovations: Getting Ahead of the Curve – Part 1

As upward pressure on public agency services costs—cities, water agencies, etc.—continues to increase, utilities must get smarter. Progressive leaders are looking for forward-thinking Smart City / Smart Agency initiatives. These include scalable communications networks with open architecture that can grow with their communities.

Water management is no exception. Solutions that employ such Smart City networks, while helping develop and leverage partnerships between water suppliers and their customers, will reap the most benefit now and into the future. One such solution has pioneered several innovative features that make it deserving of a closer look.

Two Ways Are Better Than One

“Smart communications grids” are those that leverage digital technology to improve infrastructure, asset management, environmental, financial, and social aspects of urban life. Included in this category are open, “smart” water networks, the wave of the future. The innovations forming this wave are already making a splash.

According to TechRepublic’s Smart Cities Cheat Sheet, “The International Data Corporation (IDC) defines smart city development as the use of smart initiatives combined to leverage technology investments across an entire city, with common platforms increasing efficiency, data being shared across systems, and IT investments tied to smart missions.”

Certainly, water system management is one of those areas ripe—if not overdue—for true smart initiatives. When Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) technology debuted in the mid-1980s and rapidly proliferated through the 1990s, it was a boon for utilities and water management agencies. But that’s yesterday’s solution to yesterday’s challenges.

Now, the world is becoming more urban. 60% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by mid-century. It’s time the one-way benefit of AMR is replaced by modern technology that connects, engages and empowers both water providers and end users. Today’s fast-moving agencies require a revolutionary meter monitoring/valve control solution that benefits both utilities and their customers.

Specialize, Integrate, Optimize

Part of such a system would include the recognition that—with rapid and ever-changing cyber technologies—agencies are not in the position to own and maintain the kind of large, robust communications networks needed to power Smart Cities. They need instead to work with vendors who, while fully understanding the technologies they will need to work in concert with, specialize in their area of expertise and leave the rest to experts in their respective fields.

As cited in the Water Online article, “Smart Water Networks and the Choices Ahead,” “Historically, a water utility would select a vendor to provide both the metering technology and the communication network infrastructure. While this approach had the benefit of a single point of contact responsible for delivery of an entire system, it didn’t take into account all lifetime cost-of-ownership factors, or the possible redundancy that was created due to overlapping communication systems within a single municipality or geographic region.”

Such oversights are no longer sustainable. Cities that are truly smart will retain or create their independence from proprietary networks that reduce their agility in staying ahead of the curve. They must be able to anticipate and implement best-in-class communications capabilities, and the best adjunct solutions that will use those networks.

Water management systems are no exception.

Next time, we’ll explore potential options for optimal water management functions, and provide a glossary of terms for Smart City Technology discussions.