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Use cases: How the IIoT applies to water management

Background on water management

By 2050 the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion and 11.2 billion by 2100, according to the United Nations. Unfortunately, only 3% of the world’s water is fresh and two-thirds of that small percentage is not accessible. With increased use of water pollutants and poor water treatment in developing countries, 2.4 billion people are exposed to disease such as cholera and typhoid fever, and two million people, mostly children, die every year from diarrheal diseases alone. At our current level of water management, two-thirds of the world’s population could face water shortages by 2025.

source: Ditjen SDA
source: Ditjen SDA

That is not being helped by the fundamental flaws in our water management systems that result in the loss of millions of gallons of water every year. Those loses can be minimized by using industrial internet of things solutions. Here are several use cases that utilize IIoT in order to help mitigate the unnecessary loss of our precious fresh water supply.

Agriculture and irrigation

Agriculture is, by far, the biggest user (and waster) of water in the world. Farmers use 70% of the world’s freshwater, but 60% of it is wasted due to leaky irrigation systems, inefficient applications methods and the cultivation of thirsty crops, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The deployment of sensors and actuators provides farmers with increased visibility over their operation, allowing them to optimize their water usage and minimize waste by assessing a number of metrics including temperature, water pressure and quality.

Efficiently gathering water is just as important as making sure usable water isn’t wasted, and IIoT implementations are effective solutions in maximizing water storage from irrigation systems. It’s estimated that as much as 50% of irrigation water is wasted due to evaporation or runoff. This happens because most irrigation systems still rely upon simple timers, according to B+B Smartworx. “Smart” irrigation systems can now monitor soil conditions in real time with low power, wireless sensor networks. The wireless sensor networks report the data to a central network gateway, and the network gateway sends the data to your computer. That information is combined with third party inputs like weather reports from national weather services, letting your system make intelligent decisions about where and when to release water, and in what quantities. If no rain was predicted the system could decide to release water immediately. But if rain was in the forecast the system could wait, measure the results, and recalculate.

Big data

Data is such an integral part of an industrial internet of things solution, and has a huge impact on the way we manage our water supply. In our article How big data can save our depleting water supply, we wrote about a number of ways big data can be used in water management. Data, when combined with cloud computing, offers unlimited visibility into the way operations are running. The more data you have, the higher the chance of finding potential problems. Also, gathering huge amount of data on water flow, pressure, temperature and other metrics, can allow the cloud to optimize the amount of water that is used while predicting any potential areas of concern going forward.

Maintenance

As previously stated, 60% of the water used in agriculture is wasted due to leaky irrigation systems. That is millions of gallons of fresh water going unused. A two-way communication system that monitors where and when leaks occur is an obvious requirement for saving water supplies. Unfortunately, because groundwater runs through underground piping, such a system has been expensive and difficult to deploy. Through the use of small, inexpensive sensors, IoT, on the other hand, is a more flexible and cost-effective solution to monitoring underground infrastructure. With sensors and cloud-management, farmers and business owners will know when and exactly where a leak occurs within their piping systems. That leak can quickly be fixed, decreasing water costs, and increasing the amount of usable fresh water.

Smart metering in buildings

Smart metering is the smart city way of using IIoT to provide big data in order to optimize water usage. More intelligent systems are especially needed in the United States. The American Society for Civil Engineers gave the U.S. drinking water infrastructure a grade of a “D” in its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, stating there are 240,000 water main breaks per year. And we’re still using antiquated “technology” in much of the sector. With smart metering individual tenants and water utility companies are able to assess water bills and find out whether the systems in use are adding extra costs due to leaks or ineffective metering.

Predictive analytics

It is becoming more and more the case that quickly finding out about a problem and fixing it is not enough. Enterprises must be able to know when a failure will occur before it ever happens. IoT systems can send data up to the cloud which can determine, through some clever algorithms, when a system is on the verge of failure. Preventing a system from ever going offline can prevent the loss of millions of gallons of water. Just imagine, instead of finding a leak and having to painstakingly fix it, water management companies can continue operations and seamlessly repair infrastructure that is nearing end of life, before ever having to stuff a leak with money.

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