Using smart water in cities

Using smart water in cities

Across the globe, Covid-19 has threatened cities and communities, endangering not only public health, but also disrupting the economy and the fabric of society.

It has highlighted the need for urban planners and municipalities to re-evaluate what a city needs to be resilient in the "new normal".

Swiss business school Institute of Management Development (IMD), who publishes the annual Smart City Index, found that smart cities, or cities that have incorporated digitalisation into its urban planning, demonstrated greater effectiveness in handling the pandemic.

Malaysia is making positive progress towards establishing smart cities.

Earlier this year, it revealed the groundwork for its next smart city project in Johor, developing its use of Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, big data, advanced analytics, autonomous vehicles and 5G technology. Johor joins Sabah and Sarawak in promoting consistent smart city efforts.

The rest of the world has some catching up to do. Since 2007, more than half of the world's population has been living in cities, and is projected to rise to 60 per cent by 2030. Therefore, it is critical to understand and tackle the systemic challenges cities face, which has been brought to light by the pandemic.

But where do we even begin with the painstaking process of transforming cities? Water management is one of the most pressing and urgent smart city conversations.

Access to water is directly linked to our quality of life and proven critical today, with the rampant use of water for handwashing and cleaning of public spaces and homes in our fight against the coronavirus.

Water demand has skyrocketed. This begged the question of how we can better manage this scarce resource and ensure there is enough for everyone. The key is smart water, which refers to water and wastewater infrastructure that effectively manages this precious resource, and the energy used to transport it.

Digitalisation can make our water management more pre-emptive and predictive, ensuring we are constantly monitoring the conditions of our water systems and attending to each change in time, and addressing any issue before it happens.

For example, water loss occurring along the water system due to leakage, or non-revenue water, is a key issue for many cities' water management.

With digitalisation, water utilities can use technologies that adjust water flow according to demand through the use of remote sensors.

This reduces any excess water pressure, which in turn limits water leakages and losses, minimising cost and energy. A smart city approach to water management also ensures one of a city's most critical infrastructure operates more reliably and robustly than ageing systems.

Through the IoT, advanced real-time data collection and sensors, water networks can access information that allows them to operate in a more predictive manner, reducing downtime and avoiding serious business and environmental consequences.

Technology is at our fingertips to empower our cities. The first step is to have an integrated approach to operations. For example, streamlining the city's water operations and processes enables us to fully monitor and assess data collected from different touchpoints in the water system, providing us with a clearer picture of the state of the city's water management for better analysis and prediction.

Secondly, we need to drive investment to research and development, so that new knowledge and technologies are constantly tested and feeding into the upgrade of a city's smart operations.

In Malaysia, the government has dedicated significant commitments to supporting its intention of transforming this country with digitalisation.

Another key area is people. We need to prepare the next generation of smart city leaders. We need to look at educational institutions to mould the next generation of urban planners, engineers, architects and more.

Lastly, collaboration between the public and private sectors can accelerate the process of transforming smart cities. Governments have the access and power to effect change, while corporations are driven by a commitment to be part of the solution and offer firsthand knowledge of what is needed from governments to unlock private-sector investments.

The pandemic has presented us a chance to focus our attention on what should be changed, re-evaluating the way cities are built, maintained, and lived in, and ensure that our constrained public resources are going where it matters most. Our cities are due to be transformed, whether we like it or not. We should be ready for the next challenge.

The writer is general manager of Grundfos Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam

By Kenth Hvid Nielsen