Water system: a sustainable transition?
Is a transition to a circular economy model in the use of water resources possible? We absolutely believe so, let’s see how.
In the previous two articles on the subject of “water” we defined the assets to be measured and on which to act to ensure a future in which the water supply is sufficient for the world’s population and we have come to discover how Sensoworks can revolutionize the management of plants from many points of view and, above all, in a sustainable way.
A sustainable turnaround in the management of the global water system is in fact not only possible but, on closer inspection, we believe it is mandatory.
Water scarcity, together with climate change, is already a serious problem for many countries around the world. A one-degree increase in the earth’s temperature corresponds, in fact, to a 20% reduction in the availability of water resources. This means that, in the absence of decisive measures, global water availability could be 40% lower than it is today in less than 10 years.
There is an urgent need to develop appropriate measures to facilitate the transition from the currently prevailing linear economy model to a circular economy model that promotes the efficient use of resources, particularly water. Not just the irrigation re-use of water, but the sustainable recovery of the material and energy resources contained in waste water, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the energy consumption of purification plants.
Managing water resources in a circular way requires action at different stages of the cycle:
- A global demand management strategy (for drinking, irrigation, industrial and energy purposes) that promotes sustainable lifestyles and production processes and creates concrete incentives for saving, conserving (countering dispersion in distribution networks) and resilient water sources and related water derivation and transport infrastructure.
- The valorisation and use of non-conventional water resources (mainly purified urban wastewater). Wastewater management with a view to the circular economy translates into the reuse of purified water, mainly in agriculture, and the sustainable recovery of material and energy resources contained in wastewater, thus transforming purification plants into bio-refining plants that convert waste substances into useful products, such as biogas and bio-methane, fertilisers (nitrogen, phosphorus), organic substances (cellulose, polyhydroxyalkanoates used in the production of bioplastics).
In order to reuse wastewater wisely, attention must be paid to two fundamental aspects:
- Prevention of pollution at the source by banning or punctually controlling the use of certain contaminants;
- Effective and widespread collection and treatment of wastewater;
- Refinement of wastewater and its distribution, to make it an alternative source of water, safe and economical, both for irrigation and for industries and the environment;
- The possibility of recovering energy and materials present in urban wastewater, such as nutrients like phosphorus and chemicals like biopolymers or cellulose, which can be reused in industry or agriculture.
Finally, the treatment processes and the disposal and reuse methods envisaged for sewage sludge are also of fundamental importance, and should be defined in relation to its characteristics and the territorial scope of reference. Phosphorus, for example, is a critical raw material for Europe because of its almost total dependence on imports from non-European countries and the very low rate of recycling from end-of-life products.
HOW TO DO IT? A DIGITAL REVOLUTION IS NEEDED NOW
The water service has been undergoing a digital transformation in recent years. However, the adoption of digital technologies is still at an early stage and, in order to fully express the large potential benefits that can be derived, it should be supported with concrete actions on several fronts: regulatory, normative and financial. The union between digitalisation and the Integrated Water Service is destined to become increasingly stronger.
SENSOWORKS IN SUPPORT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
Digital technologies are transforming many aspects of the world in which we live, from industries to cities and everyday life. Digital transformation is one of the great forms of disruption, global evolutionary trends that are set to change the way we do things, revolutionise the way we do things.
To change the way things are done, to revolutionise industries, including integrated water services. The concept of ‘Industry 4.0’ as a ‘strategic approach to the integration of advanced Internet-based control systems that enable people and machines to connect anytime, anywhere, with anyone and anything in a single complex system‘ was first introduced in Germany in 2011 and was referred to by the German Water Partnership (GWP) for the integrated water service as ‘Water 4.0’.
ICT (innovation and communication technologies) are a key element to improve water management, allowing the development of intelligent monitoring, management and measurement systems, decision-supporting knowledge and also greater awareness of water consumption and value.
In the area of internal processes and infrastructures, the use of digital technologies revolves around the use of data to optimise decision-making processes, make service management more efficient and improve quality. This is made possible by so-called ‘cyber infrastructures’, i.e. systems for collecting data – sensors and instruments – and for storing, processing and visualising them (smart water networks, IoT, data-science techniques, augmented intelligence, blockchain) that allow more informed decisions to be made in real time.
There, we have just explained what the Sensoworks platform does.
Immediate knowledge of your network and plant system through detailed measurements, continuous monitoring of the processes and infrastructure involved, automation of processes and remote intervention.
Sensoworks offers a unique and innovative aid in the prevention of service interruptions and the detection of water losses. An effective knowledge of the physical conditions and functioning of networks and systems also makes it possible to direct investment expenditure towards real priorities, accurately plan interventions even in the medium to long term, and optimise maintenance based on knowledge of the state of the networks rather than on their useful life.
WATER 4.0: POSITIVE EFFECTS ON THE MONOPOLY SERVICE
Given the monopoly nature of the water service, the relationship with the user becomes a fundamental strategic asset for the purpose of transmitting the role and effects of its work on the reference territory.
Digitisation of relations with the user offers a unique opportunity to create greater involvement, made up of transparent and immediate communication, simplifying end-to-end administrative procedures.
Notices of disruptions, interruptions and scheduled restoration, as well as information on open worksites and work in progress can be communicated in real time, as can the outcomes of unpredictable events. Online services and personal web user areas can facilitate supply management through user self-managed procedures, sending self-readings and complaints, activating practices and services such as the web bill or booking appointments, as well as making users more aware of their consumption and the quality of tap water (organoleptic properties and healthiness), reassuring them that they are consuming an environmentally preferable resource.
A WIN-WIN SOLUTION
In one fell swoop this privileged relationship has beneficial effects on the internal organisation of the Water Company, simplifying administrative and user management processes, and on the other it allows a more conscious use of public water, saving the entire society with respect to the lesser use of bottled water with its lower impact on the environment.
If you are interested in a complete overview on the concept of WATER INFRASTRUCTURE 4.0 you can contact Eleonora, our Head of Sales!