Making Water Smarter

With enduring challenges in hand, the water sector is seeing a spate of new technologies that are aiming to address and innovate on the inefficiencies in this area. One of the contenders to solve this challenge is the smart water meter. Many countries have recognized the benefits of the meters and are scaling up the adoption of such technologies. The UK aims to complete smart meter installation across the entire country by 2030 and hopes those metering technologies will assist utilities in identifying leaks, developing peak pricing mechanisms to incentivize conservation, and interestingly, keeping eyes on people who are violating water use restrictions. Following the UK’s path, developing countries such as India are taking initiative to deploy large scale smart water infrasctures and technologies in cities such as Mumbai.

Smart water meters, similar to its counterparts in smart grid, are promising devices that can track water consumption and be closely monitored for efficiencies. Data analytics opportunities have been providing unprecedented reliabilities and insights in tackling the inefficiencies of this sector. It is predicted that data analytics and smart metering opportunities in water are expected to reach to $22 billion by 2020. However, the market share of smart metering and data products was under $6 billion in 2010.

This huge percentage difference presents enormous opportunities for startups, corporates and investors  to develop technologies, partner with each other to strengthen financial activities, create strong networks and eventually close the gap. For example, North Carolina-based FloLogic has developed  patented leak detection technology that monitors water flow real time. Most importantly, the technology can shut the water off when a leak is detected. Some other active players in the smart water metering scene include Itron, Sensus and Elster. Another company in the space, Chile-based Wiseconn, is also developing smart metering technologies.

Big IT leaders such as IBM have leveraged their data science capabilities and partnered with companies and utilies in transforming this sector. For example, IBM’s smart water management division  has provided DC Water predictive software to improve customer services in Washington D.C Metro area.  IBM has also derived a cloud-based platform from local utility-usage information to  facilitate conservation of water resources and money for the Smart Cities Sustainability Project in Iowa.

What does this all add up to? Although the sector has not attracted the same level of funding of smart grid, it is likely to have huge potential for the future. Although the hype may be out of proportion to reality, this sector is for sure one to watch.

About the blogger: Evelyn Yinghan Pan is a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr College and is headed to Cornell for Master of Applied Statistics in the Fall. She is passionate about sustainable technologies and the impacts that cleantech innovation can bring to communities. Outside work and school, she enjoys hiking, swing dancing and checking out local organic food stores.