Smarter water is the solution for better management
By applying smarter water-management methods, EU-funded research has helped to ensure that high-quality drinking water continues to flow from our taps, water loss is minimised, and energy use is optimised.
© Robert Przybysz #142610121, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Across Europe, we take for granted the delivery of fresh clean water to our homes. But to deliver this vital resource is a complex task involving a water distribution network of some 3.5 million kilometres. Over the next 10 to 30 years, large parts of this network will need to be replaced or refurbished to ensure drinking water quality meets the standards set by European Union Directives.
Climate and environmental change combined with greater demand is also putting pressure on fresh water sources, which means it is vital that resources for water production and distribution are optimised to save water and minimise energy use.
Currently, water networks are managed in a reactive way, responding to water-quality and leakage events, customer complaints and information from health authorities. The EU-funded SMARTWATER4EUROPE project looked to accelerate the demonstration and deployment of innovative smart water network technology solutions that will enable upgrading the reliability, efficiency, quality control, sustainability and resiliency of urban drinking water supplies.
In principle, the main technology and ICT building blocks to enable Smart Water Management have already been developed, says Eelco Trietsch from the project coordinator Vitens NV, a Dutch water utility. However, major hurdles to applying the technology had been identified, including a lack of integrated and open solutions and validated business cases.
The SMARTWATER4EUROPE project sought to overcome these hurdles by developing and demonstrating integrated solutions for the smart management of water distribution networks on a large scale at four locations operated by four different entities across Europe.
Smart Water Management uses real-time measurement and sensing instrumentation to deliver fast data analysis and modelling for decision support and control of the network. Today, most networks are not continuously optimised and, as a result, significant resources are wasted. Estimates for water lost from the networks range from 5 to 50 % of total water managed and full optimisation could save 10 to 15 % of the energy used for distribution.
With Smart Water Management, real-time information enables a much better understanding of the quality of the network and risks within it, claims Trietsch. The main goal of the project for water utilities was to be able to predict system issues early and act on this information.
All four demonstration sites had different water-use characteristics, including industrial areas and urban neighbourhoods. Three were operated by major water utilities (Leeuwarden in the Netherlands by Vitens, Burgos in Spain by ACCIONA Agua, and Reading in the UK by Thames Water) and the fourth site supplied services to the University of Lille in France. The project results showed that network behaviour was strongly dependent on the local situation. No standard one size fits all approach was found.
However, the project was ideal for trying out all the possibilities for using sensors in the network to maximise useful data and optimise cost, with some significant preferences found in terms of sensor types and their positioning.
From the demonstration sites it was clear that optimised use of sensors can help prevent and detect water leakage in the networks and save a lot of water, says Trietsch.
Another significant result of the project was the use of data visualisation to integrate and present information on the state of the network. This allows the network operators to easily understand the state of the system and act quickly when required, states Trietsch. Following the project, the water utilities involved are continuing to develop these systems, which are of great value to them.
It is estimated that Smart Water Management could enable savings of around EUR 10 billion worldwide annually while also offering enormous market potential for EU industry to provide smart water solutions.