How the Internet of Things and water utility companies are making a splash

By | 3 minute read | September 19, 2017

Imagine waking up with no running water. How would that impact your morning routine? Would you have enough bottled water on hand to get ready for work? If this lack of water lasts all day or all week, it would become truly problematic. No running water to flush the toilet. No water to brush your teeth, shower, or cook food. The panic would ensue at local supermarkets as everyone scrambled to load up on supplies. Lack of water then forces manufacturers to shut down operations.

As we’ve seen in recent weeks with record-breaking hurricanes, this scenario is very real and cause for concern. However, what if all of this could be avoided using IoT technology?  Today, the dynamics of the supply and demand of water make it critical for governments to evaluate and better manage the supply. This is where the IoT comes into the picture.

The global water system is suffering

Only 1 percent of the water on the planet is fresh and fit for human consumption. One percent!  To make things worse, there are fundamental flaws in water management systems that result in the loss of millions of gallons of water every year.

According to an IBM Institute for Business Value report on Fixing the Future:“Essential for health, food, energy, manufacturing and transportation, the global water system is suffering from stress, deteriorating quality, aging and insufficient infrastructure. Managing this critical resource requires a smarter approach to deliver improved outcomes across the water management lifecycle. Using information and analytics, governments, cities, utilities and businesses must take immediate action to deploy a smarter approach to water management to solve the world’s water crisis.”

See Figure 1 for current stressors in the water ecosystem.

vulnerabilities in water utility management

Figure 1. Interrelated challenges in the global water system are creating critical vulnerabilities. Source: Fixing the Future

IoT solutions are available to help mitigate the unnecessary loss of fresh water supply but does it work? Let’s look at some of the areas addressed by IoT in water management.

Monitoring the usage and wastage of water

To save the world’s most critical resource, it requires constant monitoring and watch. IoT helps water suppliers understand patterns of water usage. Systems such as smart metering in buildings can provide data to be analyzed for patterns. Smart metering also optimizes water usage by enabling individual tenants and water utility companies to assess  bills. This enables them to find out whether the systems in use are adding extra costs due to leaks or ineffective metering.

Water supply and distribution

Data has a huge impact on the way water supply is managed. When combined with cloud computing, data offers unlimited visibility into the way operations are running.  Information on water flow, pressure, temperature and other metrics allows the utility providers to optimize the water supply for each region.

Systems maintenance

Effective maintenance system are expensive and difficult to deploy since groundwater runs through underground piping. Through sensors funneling data to the cloud, farmers and business owners know when and exactly where a leak occurs within their piping systems. That leak can quickly be fixed – lessening the likelihood of future breaks and decreasing water management costs. With IoT and predictive analytics, utilities can foresee failure. Water management authorities can continue their operations seamlessly and conduct preventive maintenance of installed infrastructure before they ever fail.

See how utility companies are using IoT

Read about how the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities provides safe drinking water to their residents with the help of Maximo and the IoT.

Can the IoT save New Orleans from flooding? Possibly. Find out how.

Miami Dade County saved over $1M USD through the IoT for water management solution. Watch how Miami Dade County achieved water conservation.

IBM Water Operations for Waternamics – IBM Water Management is a  predictive analytics platform that helps make sense of data deluge and engage citizens to collaborate across water operations.

Please contact your IBM sales representative or visit the marketplace for further details on how we can help improve your utility operations.