While much attention has been paid to smart water technology deployments in the United States, there’s evidence that smart water technology is gaining traction in other parts of the world. The need is certainly acute: Unaccounted for water amounts to more than $14 billion annually around the globe, according to The World Bank. In response, innovative water projects in various stages have emerged in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
In Europe, the SmartWater4Europe project involves 21 different entities, including water utilities, technology vendors, research centers, and universities. With a budget of more than €10 million ($13.5 million), the leading players are: Acciona Agua of Spain, Vitens of the Netherlands, and Thames Water from the United Kingdom. The overall goal is to apply new technologies for better management of drinking water networks.
The first project will be deployed by Acciona Agua in the Spanish city of Cáceres. Acciona will install advanced technologies in the town’s city center and historic district. The company will utilize a single software platform that integrates remote meter reading, water quality sensors, a geographic information system (GIS), and mathematical modeling that can detect faults, jams, or leaks. Vitens will lead a similar project in the Dutch province of Friesland and Thames Water will conduct its project in London. Working with the University of Lille, the companies will also manage a project in the French town of Villeneuve d´Ascq. Results from the four projects will be collected over the next 4 years.
In the Desert
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is making major investments in water supply technology. The water-stressed country has allocated up to $53 billion for a variety of projects to be completed by 2022, with much of the money going to desalination and wastewater treatment projects. Desalination is the country’s main source of water, and though it requires large amounts of energy to transform seawater into potable water, this process is seen as the most viable solution given Saudi Arabia’s ample supply of oil and gas.
Also in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates’ SembCorp Water & Power Company is expanding its Fujairah 1 desalination plant using technology from Energy Recovery, a California-based company that specializes in harnessing reusable energy from industrial fluid flows and pressure cycles. Energy Recovery’s devices will be used at Fujairah 1, with the expectation the new gear will cut 83,000 metric tons of CO₂ per year, amounting to 140 million kWh of energy savings and more than $14 million in annual cost savings.
In Asia, several water utilities in India are moving ahead on projects to upgrade their water systems. The Bangalore Water & Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has awarded a contract to French company Suez Environnement to improve its distribution system and reduce unaccounted for water (UFW), which is due to leakage, theft, or under-registered meters; UFW is also known as non-revenue water. The goal of the 8-year project is to reduce UFW from the current level of 42% to 16% in the state of Karnataka, which includes more than 400 000 consumers. Similarly, Suez has a new contract with Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corp. (PCMC) to upgrade its water system and reduce UFW. The two contracts for Suez are valued at $27.5 million. And in Delhi, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), the main water supplier in the capital, is deploying new gear from Itron, which includes 120,000 advanced meters, 40,000 standard meters, mobile collection equipment, and software. Upon completion in March 2014, this project will be India’s largest mobile advanced metering system.
These projects demonstrate a growing global awareness of the need for modernizing water production, distribution, and treatment systems. The problem lies in making these projects budget priorities amidst competing capital projects. Clearly, oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have more flexibility to direct funds to water projects, while other countries like India struggle to make the case among competing infrastructure needs. Eventually, investments in water systems will have to be made in order to avoid looming water supply catastrophes.