H. Subramaniam
April 24, 2016

There has been a lot of recent media hype about how smart cities would transform urban life in India. This has drawn my thinking to the idea of innovation and technology in the water space. How can smartness in water management help improve the quality of life of urban citizens?

A recent international study asked experts to rate the most important technological innovations of the last 50 years. Not surprisingly, the winner was the technology of water purification and desalination, which has allowed adequate and economic access of safe drinking water to the rising population across the world. This is one area where science has been simplified and commercialized to give solution to one of man's most basic problems.

The Government of India has envisioned the concept of building 100 smart cities in the country. These are expected to provide better infrastructure, better connectivity and better quality of life to its inhabitants. The Government sees this as a key element of urbanization, economic development and the emergence of India as a global power. A smart city must also be smart in its water usage.

How does smartness touch users in connection to water usage? The most basic avenue lies in water conservation and saving. Aspects of water conservation, reuse and demand management have to be key elements of any smart city. Using sensors and controllers, one can detect water wastages, and take corrective actions in real time. Modelling of consumption patterns can help in better estimation and allocation of water resources. Data analysis can be done more intuitively, and improvements can be made in preventive maintenance. Smart engineering can ensure efficient and effective usage of water ensuring equitable usage by all stakeholders. This can be extended to recycling, recovering and reusing water in numerous applications.

Technology needs to be married with sustainability. There is a huge need and opportunity for instrumentation and monitoring technologies. Analytics and communication management between various devices and interfaces will be the other critical component of a smart city. Providing smart solutions to users to detect contaminants and to measure water quality levels, would provide immense power to the consumers.

All cities consume large quantities of energy in transporting and treating water. Smartness lies in conserving energy and in recovering energy. Solar and wind energy are likely to be used extensively in water networks. The organic sludge in sewage would be used more and more to produce energy that can be used for running the treatment plant. Pumping energy would be reduced by using efficient drives and matching demand to supply. Lastly, the water pressure in the pipe network would be used to generate energy using turbines.

Being smart does not imply high-tech or complex technology. It involves simplicity and being in sync with the environment. Smartness comes out of thinking, not out of impressive hardware. This is my vision of smartness in the water space. Most of the technology for achieving this state is already out there. Building the same into our planning and execution mechanisms would make this vision a reality. And that would make us a very smart civilization.

H Subramaniam H. Subramaniam is Editor, EverythingAboutWater magazine. He can be reached at subrah@eawater.com.

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