What's all this Internet-of-Water drip-feed about – anyhow?

13-07-2018 |   |  By Paul Whytock

A water management system dubbed the Internet of Water and being trialed in Flanders could help control water quality and improve supply, something UK water utilities might find useful.

This Belgium system uses wireless-connected sensors and intelligent software to monitor water pollution, available water quantity and how much water is being used and whether usage demand is at normal levels or if there is a sudden upward spike.

Here in the UK household water availability has hit the headlines yet again following a couple of weeks of very hot weather. It’s the usual well-worn plea from the water companies not to use hosepipes in gardens and to be as frugal with water usage as possible during the heat wave. Laughable really when you consider we had the wettest winter for almost 250 years in England and Wales, according to the Met Office.


Huge Water Loss

So is the hot weather the real reason for water shortages in the UK or could it be the fact that England and Wales lose 3.1 billion litres of water every day through leakages in the water supply system? And according to the Consumer Council for Water, Thames Water is the worst offending utility company with loses of around 180 litres of water per property every single day. No small amount when you consider that Thames Water's 15 million customers comprise 27% of this country's population.


But back to the Internet of Water trial in Flanders. There is a certain humour in trialing this Internet-of-Water (IoW) in the Flanders region of Belgium. It is the Dutch speaking area of the country and perhaps the IoW system could prove to be the technological alternative to that mythical Dutch lad who legend says averted a water catastrophe by sticking his finger in the leaking dike?


Sensor Network

So what is this IoW stuff about? Well the district of Flanders plans to implement a large sensor network that simultaneously monitors available water reserves and current water demand.

It will consist of over 1,000 small, wireless low-power water quality sensors that have been developed for the project by Imec, the electronics technology research centre. A key operational aspect of using these sensors is it will allow the more accurate matching of available water reserves to the pressure of demand.

The extremely smalls sensors will be capable of measuring water, acidity and conductivity as well as a variety of dissolved substances in the water. Prior to the development of these sensors such monitoring would have needed a whole bunch of different sensing technology and at the time that was considered to be cost prohibitive.


Self-learning Algorithms

The system will be driven by intelligent software and this will use self-learning algorithms capable of processing the substantial amounts of data generated by the water sensors.

However, the Flanders project is by no means the first realisation that water management requires an Internet of water approach.

The Aspen Institute headquartered in the USA has long called for a more technologically competent approach to national water management.

In its view, and just like the Flanders project, an Internet of Water system can only function successfully if there is accurate and openly shared data relating to water. It says such data should be collected and communicated via water data hubs. These would be centrally controlled by what it describes as a national "backbone organisation."

There are already across the USA a number of such water data hubs in existence and in addition to these states like Texas and Colorado are already making their water data public. The Aspen Institute believes that the Internet of Water should initially grow through investment in these hubs which would provide them with greater operational ability and also increase interconnection between them all.

Valuable water data should then be shared on a national basis which when you consider that the American public use 42,000 million gallons of water daily is no small task but an environmental necessity nonetheless.


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By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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