Water is a common wealth, and is our duty not to drain it. 1 out of 3 of the world´s population are living in countries facing water crisis, and more than 95% of the population live in areas with less
water than 20 years ago, according to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN. On the other hand, by 2040, global energy demand is projected to increase by over 25% and water demand is
expected to increase by more than 50%. This has to be a clear call to action to all of us.
We have been using water massively since the Fist Industrial Revolution, when water and steam
power where used to mechanize production. After thousands or years using water as if it was and
endless resource, time has come to leverage on the possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, as well as technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things,
nanotechnology, materials science or energy storage to help us accelerate responsible use of water.
We are living the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), and we cannot only benefit from production
efficiencies, but also from consciousness with our environment to protect our most precious
69% of global water use comes from agriculture, 19% from industries and 12% from cities. These
sectors are already currently implementing initiatives, offering potential impactful solutions worth exploring to help us achieve the goal of using water in a smarter way.
Water Industry and Manufacturing Even though water industry is considered a utility, it requires to be updated. By building holistic digital roadmaps, creating an innovation culture, leveraging pilots for an agile mind-set to help explore new technologies and build momentum, and developing architecture for optimising data use, operations can be optimized and therefore the use of water and energy for its management.
Namibia´s citizens have been drinking recycled water since 1968. We may still be a bit reluctant to drinking wastewater, but there´s also a great benefit from its use by agriculture or manufacturing
industries. By investing in recycling water technology, not only water may be saved from waste, but costs can also be reduced compared to those from treating, processing and consuming “new” water.
Another advantage of recycling water is that as municipalities can use it locally, there is no need to transport water, putting less strain on infrastructure and public utilities. And business models that
leverage 4IR technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will prove essential in bringing these decentralized recycling solutions to scale.
We can also find great gains from using gammification. United Arab Emirates launched a project to motivate and empower businesses to reduce water and energy consumption, (My Sustainable Living Programme) by providing them with a toolkit that taught companies how to measure their existing water consumption levels, and offering tips to help them reduce them. Jointly with this initiative, they also launched a challenge between companies to define pre-set targets for a period of 1 year and use the toolkit and tips to reduce water consumption levels. Some of the companies that participated in the challenge where able to reduce
water consumption by a 55%.
Agriculture Optimization models of crop planting structure, with the objectives of minimum blue water footprint and the maximum agricultural net benefit, have already been constructed and they can be a very effective tool for on-farm conservation and efficient irrigation.
Blockchain technology could also support peer-to-peer trading of water rights in a given basin,
empowering water users who have enough or are willing to share their excess resources with others in the area to do so 24/7 without relying on a centralized authority. This can help farmers influence supply chains by being able to trade their allocations based on the latest weather data, crop prices, market trends and longer term climate change – much of which is already accessible via their mobile devices.
Smart Cities – Smart Water
In the era of data and information, municipalities can leverage on it to enhance their citizen´s awareness on how much water do they really have and how much do they spend, so that they can take responsibility by themselves to save water.
During one of the worst droughts of the history of Australia (1997-2009), Melbourne´s city used
electronic billboards to flash available levels of water to all citizens. This enhanced consciousnessleading into a great amount of people investing in rainwater holding tanks for their homes, or
installing water efficient showerheads or small water fall regulators.
Blockchain can also help citizens improve water source management by taking informed decisions around when to conserve or use water, based on data on water quality and quantity.
But not everything is to be about saving water or consuming less. Satellite imagery and other forms of earth observation, combined with remote sensing, IoT, AI and other advanced technologies could enable us to detect water basin risks earlier and to quantify those risks, so that we can implement solutions to manage it accordingly. And we can also find new resources of water by using advanced materials such as new forms of graphene-based membranes, that could revolutionize the desalination market, or other material advancements that are enabling scientists to harvest water from air more easily, without relying on humidity.
The combination of IoT, AI and other advanced technologies can and will positively disrupt the provision and maintenance of water and sanitation services in cities, as well as increase its citizen’s consciousness on water usage.
In addition to refining the technologies, establishing the right governance frameworks and policies and gaining societal engagement and acceptance, investment landscapes and financing models will also have to evolve. New forms of public-private collaboration and innovations in business models will be at the core of this challenge.
Energy-saving performance contracts (ESPCs) have proven to be a very effective path to enable cities and municipalities solve the obstacle of access to funding to achieve this required capital-intensive projects. ESPCs are a form of a public-private partnership), a financial model that capitalizes on the flexibility and resources of the private sector to pay for energy-saving capital upgrades using future energy savings. Also the financial sector, based on the “Responsible Banking principles” designed by the UN, could launch products to enable clients gain awareness on their daily water consumption and make donations to compensate, or create investment portfolios based in “smart water efficiency” companies, cities or projects.
There´s no need to reinvent the wheel, we just have to look at what water poor countries have done, be inspired by them and use the technology at our disposal to work altogether in maintaining our great treasure… WATER!
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