The world recently celebrated World Water Week placing water challenges around the globe in sharp focus at a conference presented in Sweden. Scarcity and how to better manage water resources were key issues the speakers addressed. But it is not only water infrastructure that is under stress.

Utility managers everywhere are facing intensifying pressure to provide reliable services to citizens, requiring careful management due to resource scarcity and population growth. Several countries in the world are grappling with ageing infrastructure, wastage and inefficiencies while the demand for provision continues to grow.

“Technology, specifically Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, is the key intervention required to vastly improve operations to ensure sustainable approaches to manage utility operations. Water especially is a scarce resource, particularly in Africa, and requires new approaches,” says Vusi Mngomezulu, Head of Sales at IoT.nxt.

“It is critical to improving resource productivity as the pressure to deliver services intensifies. Many governments have started with a more citizen-centric approach that will enhance their operations and ultimately drive sustainability,” Mngomezulu says.

“It is all about data. You can only improve what you can measure. IoT solutions provide data in real-time allowing utility managers to be more responsive and address issues effectively. The scope for improvements is vast. The technology augments smart meters with more advanced monitoring, alerting and data analytics capabilities,” he adds.

Municipalities and utility companies can use the IoT to encourage smart utility use among their customers. Homes, for example, can be equipped with smart water meters to monitor usage—data that is then sent back to the utility and analysed to determine such things as potential water leaks or peak customer use. The utility can use that information to help the homeowner save money by alerting them of possible water leaks or making suggestions to reduce water use.

For example, the Municipal Water Department in East Bay, California saved 5% in water consumption by giving 10 000 customers access to a web portal that showed how each stacked up against families of comparable size, as well as by providing ideas for improving water conservation.

IoT can improve utility management in several ways:

  • Smart metering. For decades consumption data was collected manually, and consumers charged retrospectively. Meters equipped with sensors can transmit their data to the utility operator’s operations division and provide information about consumption by month or even at short intervals.
  • Prevention and detection of theft. Data can reveal when meters are calculating consumption during non-typical times. An unexpected spike in usage can be addressed immediately.
  • Fast fault responses. Utility managers still largely rely on fault reporting by customers. Availability of real-time data alerts managers when outages or say water supply interruptions occur.

Beyond efficiencies, using technology effectively can ultimately contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions. According to assessments by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as part of their Exponential Climate Action Roadmap, expanding the use of digital technologies could reduce carbon emissions by at least 15% – almost a third of the 50% reduction needed to curb climate change by 2030.

“Sustainability has emerged as an important focus for decision-makers in recent years. Utilising IoT technology can fast-track their sustainability goals,” Mngomezulu concludes.