According to The Nature Conservancy, water shortages are expected to rise along with population and food demand spikes as a result of migration, urbanization, and climate change. By 2050, it is projected that more than 1 billion urbanites could be living on less than a bathtub full of water per day (approximately 26 gallons). This would be a shocking transition for most of America, as we traditionally use between 42 and 130 gallons of water per day. This does not bode well for us. Societies have relied on water for centuries to build cultures and to create and improve agriculture, but now we are seeing dramatic effects of drought and poor water management take hold.
As we move closer to having truly intelligent or smart cities, smart meters and more integrated infrastructures, what does this mean for municipalities? Does it save time, energy, and resources? Before that is answered, let’s take a step back to the very beginning and understand that as humans we’ve been manipulating water for thousands of years. First, it was to simply survive, but over time, we began to irrigate crops, then to grow cities and empires.
Oman, Jordan, and Persia were some of the first to perfect the use of running water within homes and buildings, so much so that we still use the same systems of channeling water today. While the engineering may have changed, aqueducts still provide water to major metropolitan cities throughout the world. New York City, for example, gets roughly 40 percent of its water from the Catskill Aqueduct.
Overcoming Clogs in The System
Building such massive infrastructure and maintaining it is starting to negatively impact the environment, as we are seeing throughout California and the rest of the American Southwest.
Additionally, the increasing demand for fresh water is costing even more money to build out infrastructure or retrofit old systems to meet new needs. These large pieces of infrastructure have lots of connected things in them to manage pressure, usage, and maintenance. The management between the macro (reservoirs) and the micro (individual buildings) are where things get a bit interesting, because this is where the value of smart cities truly lies. It isn’t enough just to have access to information; departments and industries also need to be able to collect, contextualize, and share that information to make real change. Over time, city development and infrastructures have slowly matured from basic controls and manual systems to connected systems. Sure, we’re not seeing anything advanced in the deployed markets yet, but there are connected M2M controls and reporting systems in place today to manage flow and distribution. As the technologies have advanced and changed, so has the responsibility of the municipalities.
Municipal governments have some of the biggest burdens in water management and related market silos, but city water departments have not been updated as rapidly as other legacy infrastructures, such as telephone and Internet lines. In fact, not much has changed since the Chelsea Waterworks Company in 1723 to the water department of today. Unfortunately, communications between the water department and others within municipalities hasn’t changed much either because water departments have to work with various others departments inside a city to furnish what’s necessary to parks, a wide array of municipal users, commercial and residential management, and to work across their billing and budgetary needs in addition to its own. Currently, there are many manual processes in place to manage water usage, as is standard with any sort of government (except Ireland apparently).
Take for example, the human resource hours spent on residential water meters; this is the type of cost a connected city can avoid. Typically, a city deploys a team to check each meter manually and report back the meter reading. This occurs each month to measure the amount of water used and then allows the city to set up billing. The dumb meter that only reads the amount used is not collecting pressure, flow rate, or various other statistics a smart meter would report back in real time. If something needs to be measured in an in depth manner, data is collected and processed, then the report goes through several departments. Next, the water department works with the facilities or maintenance department to repair a leak that has taken months to find and report.
But, why do water statistics matter, especially those in real time? Most cities that pump water from wells, aquifers, reservoirs, and other water sources, only get roughly 60 to 70 percent of the water to the end user. That means that 30 to 40 percent of that water is lost in the processes, generally due to leaks or poor pressure. Oftentimes, leaks go undetected for a very long time, or are never found, causing negative impacts on the use of such a finite resource – in addition to costing the municipality money due to loss and repairs.
According to the EPA, the average American family uses 300 gallons of water per day, and of that, roughly 70 percent (~210 gallons) of the water is used indoors. Of that 70 percent, nearly 49 percent (~102 gallons) of water lost within the home comes from flushing toilets and running the washing machine. Yet, when drought restrictions are in effect, limitations are placed on outdoor water use, which is only approximately 30 percent of residential water consumption. According to IBM, water demand for manufacturing is going up by 400 percent by 2050.
Having smart water meters in homes can also inform home owners how much water they use every day/month, and can help them alter their water usage habits. For places like California, this could be a huge step in the right direction – especially since daily water consumption must be cut by 25 to 30 percent; otherwise, the state will run dry in the next five years. One woman found a leak because of a smart meter installed at her house and saved more than 90 percent from a rather large leak, granted this is an extreme case. Because of California’s continued population expansion and agricultural industry (in addition to years of drought), lakes, streams, and aquifers are drying up at a historical rate. Unfortunately, the rest of the U.S. is not immune – at least six other states are running out of water, including Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, according to USA Today.
How Smart Meters Can Save Us
Despite the fact that many states in America, and other nations, are struggling with depleted water sources, all is not lost; there is a connected solution that can solve these problems. Capstone Metering, for example, is a company that is trying to solve many of these problems, and has devised a water meter that can monitor both commercial and residential structures.
Capstone’s monitoring goes further than simple meter readings of how much water is used each month. Instead, it can solve many of the issues that municipalities now face, by collecting data of pressure, time of peak use, preventative maintenance, and leak detection with SMS alerts. In IBM’s case, the SMS alerts help manage a town’s water department to manage the infrastructure with other sensors to determine if there are problems with the water itself. Is the water out of balance with pH or chlorine levels? If so, the system IBM has put into place can alert the right municipal staff to correct what could potentially be a problem for all customers from residential, to manufacturing and agricultural.
For instance, Capstone’s meters can help determine if there are leaks in the system when a pressure delta occurs between two meters. The smart meter can then report this back and start saving the city money, as well as curbing the environmental cost of pumping too much water from such a finite resource.
All of the data collected can then be hosted in the cloud and is accessible to multiple departments, saving many hours of paper shuffling and report filing. In addition to the metering and usage issues, cities also face challenges in regard to the billing and collection aspect to monitored water systems.
Many cities are owed large amounts of unpaid bills, but have not had the resources necessary to collect or even shut off water to those who have not paid. A connected meter can offer better management for billing and control, in this case through automation and visualized data via dashboards. In Capstone’s case, the smart meter is also completely self-sufficient, and very reliable in the way that it was built.
Capstone has built a solidstate meter that can determine the flow from gallons per second all the way to gallons per day. The meter charges itself as water flows through the meter, and can sustain controls and report features through an integrated battery. The integrated battery can last for a couple of months without water flow recharging the battery. Protection circuits are even built in to prevent any sort of issues if the water meter is having water flow the wrong way. Capstone has also patented a unique system to control the water into each place the meter is connected to with a controllable ball valve to allow for pressure control and shut off.
Detroit and New York are two of the more recent examples of water woes for payment collections. Detroit needs the outstanding bills to pay for much needed upgrades and fixes to the system. Without the easy ability to shut off the water there are still many customers using water and accruing charges without any repercussions. In New York the situation is similar, only the people who are not paying are listed in some of the highest valued property in the city and can easily pay. The shut off would be paid off but an over taxed municipal staff can’t get around to shutting the water off to collect the overdue bill. However, flow control is much more important; in some cases the infrastructure may have too much pressure at one end of a block and not enough pressure at another end of a block serviced by one line.
By controlling the pressure individually between endpoints (houses), all of the houses can be serviced with equal pressure. In some cases the higher pressure house may be using more water than it’s billed for because some of the older meters cannot sustain that much water going through and a controlled flow meter can now accurately charge for water. On the other hand, the house at the end of the block with lower pressure may not be able to generate as much revenue for the city because of the water consumption being lower than it could be. Pressure management is another issue. Water stagnation issues in the system lead to wasteful discharge in times of need. According to Mueller, another smart water meter company, up to 30,000 gallons per day can be saved with correct smart systems in place. In the Texas heat, pressure will build up in some parts of the system with water vapor and the pressure right now can only be dealt with by releasing water through a fire hydrant. A system that is smart with controls in it can be managed through infrastructure, saving time and money by automated flushes that don’t need a crew but rather just a smart computer watching the system. Flushing also prevents water quality issues in the system, which in some rural areas can be an issue where water is not used as frequently as other areas.
Directing water to the place where it is needed is one of the first things we’ve done as a civilization (let’s not forget the Panama Canal), measuring and conserving our resources came next. It has become very important that smarter cities can manage their finite resources, especially resources that will need to stretch further with less.
According to the U.N., if the current abuses of water sources do not change, by 2030, there will be a distinct 40 percent global water deficit. But, there is a way to reverse this: Michel Jarraud, head of the agency UN-Water and the World Meteorological Organization stated: “Measurability, monitoring, and implementation are urgently needed to make water use sustainable.”
From the start, water has propelled not only life, but has helped provide the foundation for all we have ever needed to grow as a species, from farming to manufacturing. Our job now is to find a way to better manage not only our cities but also ourselves, allowing us to continue to evolve.
Jose Gallardo is director of account development, Adam Lotia is strategic analyst and hacktivist, and Enrique Pavlioglou is research specialist at James Brehm & Associates LLC.
Edited by Ken Briodagh