Every person on the planet requires freshwater daily. However, there are billions of people worldwide that don’t have access to this life giving resource. The issues are diverse, from access to clean, affordable water, to creating infrastructure that delivers potable water and protects freshwater systems.
Back in March 2016, the United Nations Secretary-General delivered a stark warning: By 2025, he said, nearly 1.8 billion people will live in areas with absolute water scarcity, and two thirds of the world population could face water-stressed conditions.
The World Resources Institute has ranked 17 countries as suffering from extremely high baseline water stress. Twelve of those are located in the Middle East and North Africa.
The southwestern U.S. has, for the past two decades, been living through the worst ‘megadrought’ it has seen in 1,200 years. The water level in Lake Mead, the largest manmade reservoir in the country, has dropped to an unprecedented low of 1,050 feet above sea level, a 178-foot drop from its “full pool” level.
Optimizing water resource management is a critical imperative in today’s water-scarce environment. While 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, less than one percent of it is readily available for human use. For water utilities, therefore, curtailing nonrevenue water (NRW) loss is crucial, not only for the financial viability of the utility itself, but for environmental sustainability and resiliency, too.
From a global perspective, a 2018 study estimated that the global volume of NRW is 346 million cubic metres per day, or 126 billion cubic metres per year. [For comparison, US drinking water systems alone currently lose at least 6 billion gallons (or 22.7 million cubic meters) of water per day, or 2.1 trillion gallons (7.9 billion cubic meters) per year.] Those numbers are massive, but there is also massive potential in their reduction: If the world’s volume of nonrevenue water was reduced by only one-third, the savings would be sufficient to supply 800 million people.
In a recent blog post I wrote about the importance of organizational visibility (understanding), control (method), and measuring outcomes and results. In managing nonrevenue water losses, visibility and control can be enhanced by a focus on digital asset management—both by being able to collect the necessary network data, and then being able to quickly glean insights from it.
For water utilities that don’t have integrated asset and outage management systems, the good news is that the energy sector has been automating and optimizing outage response for decades, improving estimated time to restoration, lowering outage times, improving customer communication, and optimizing and improving field work scheduling dispatch activities. Much of that capability is transferable into the water sector.
For example, using a network management system and its modeling capabilities provides a better understanding of flow and potential leakage areas within the system, allowing for better maintenance planning. Through network sensorization via IoT, and real-time analysis of the data those sensors provide, you can increase your understanding of your network assets. Adding network asset sensors, such as acoustic sensors to identify leaks and monitor problem areas, will allow you to access real-time information from the field (reducing the need for expensive, manual diagnostics), clarify asset health, and then feed that data back into planning and maintenance systems faster, to better optimize asset performance, prioritize maintenance, and reduce incidences of pipe failure.
Digitalization provides a fundamental change to the identification and monitoring of nonrevenue water losses. This ‘deep-level visualization’ all begins with using data differently. Decoupling data from its core systems and processes, and bringing it into one central ‘version of the truth,’ is vital to surfacing more meaningful insights, analyzing asset condition trends, and predicting leakage or asset failure patterns across your entire asset base. It also provides a clear path to improving informed decision-making to optimize your resources, materials, and allocated budget; meet efficiency, productivity, and cost-reduction goals; and better mitigate risk through preventive and predictive maintenance.
As stewards of the world’s most precious resource, water utilities have an unparalleled responsibility in the global water scarcity challenge. Managing preventable water distribution losses—and being able to accurately measure those results—is a crucial step in ensuring that water sustainability and resiliency is a challenge that we can all meet.
Beyond the sustainability imperative, of course, there are clear economic and resiliency benefits to better managing nonrevenue losses, including improved water services and customer satisfaction, reduced capital spend on water capture/storage infrastructure, decreased energy needs, increased operational revenues lower pricing, and better credit worthiness.
The good news is something can be initiated regardless of maturity and available funding. In fact this approach can actually be used as a road map to a more robust plan based on improved system knowledge and awareness.
Read more Journeys with Jack blogs
Journeys with Jack: How can IoT address the challenges in energy and water
Journeys with Jack: Developing countries can (and probably should) skip traditional power infrastructure
Journeys with Jack: Trials and pilots - it's the future "guaranteed"
Prepare for a sustainable and affordable future with Oracle Energy and Water. From better outage management tools to smarter asset lifecycle planning options, get support for every single step of your utility’s good work. Learn more at oracle.com/utilities. Get specific product information as quick as clicking right here.
Jack Lucy has over 30 years of experience in asset-intensive industries including mining, transportation, oil and gas, and utilities. Jack worked directly in industry for fifteen of those years and the last fifteen years affiliated with business development, software sales and consulting to companies around the world.