Tapping into the cloud to make water smarter for all

Johan De Villiers

All the water that we currently have in our oceans, rivers and lakes is all the water we will ever have. No more, no less.

As French explorer Jacques Cousteau said, “The water cycle and the life-cycle are one.” Efficient use this valuable resource is key to our future prosperity.

In Southeast Asia, a growing population and rapid urban development has brought great stress to our fresh water supplies. Now is the time for us to come together to make every drop count.

Transformation is very much possible. Singapore was once one of the world’s most water-stressed cities where water shortages, polluted rivers and flooding were widespread. Nevertheless, as the city has evolved, the transformation of its water resources has been phenomenal, thanks to the foresight of the Singaporean government and the nation’s water operators, who now serve as a shining example in harnessing smart water technology.

According to the World Bank1, some 32 billion cubic meters of water were lost globally in 2016, half of which occurred in developing countries. Some cities lost over half of their total water supply through leakages. In comparison, Singapore’s loss rate stands at less than 5 percent2, and together with a closed national water system, this means that every drop is used to its full potential.

The largest challenge in water conservation is our management of infrastructure.  Often built decades ago, it leaks and creaks, struggling to keep up. Every drop lost in this manner has a detrimental impact on the environment. One key solution is harnessing new technology along with aging infrastructure, connecting it through wireless technologies and the cloud (of the data and network type, rather than of rain…)

Our range of ABB Ability™ digital offering does exactly this, enabling providers to monitor every drop of water before it reaches our taps. Various parts of a water plant can now talk to one another and to operators so that we know exactly what is happening in any given place or moment. Minuscule changes in water levels, leaks or water quality can then be detected and managed quickly. At the same time, resources such as manpower and energy are used more efficiently.

Technavio, the US research group, forecasts the global smart water network market to grow by approximately 15 percent between 2017 and 2021 due to the rise of smart cities. According to the study, smart water networks are amongst the six most important sectors that will help governments and cities achieve their smart cities goals.

Singapore continues to produce compelling, world class examples of how smart water can contribute to a smart city. For instance, the Ulu Pandan wastewater treatment plant which recently won a Global Water Award, incorporated a smart water system in its blueprint in [2017], and has demonstrated advanced technologies to automate, control and bring new levels of efficiency, productivity and performance.

Another stand-out example is the upcoming Marina East Desalination plant which will be completed by 2020.  As a dual-mode desalination plant, it will treat either fresh or sea water depending on whether it rains or shines, with technologies that continuously maintains the highest levels of energy efficiency and reliability.

Many ASEAN countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand are all making significant strides to develop their water systems in a smart way.

In Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, the local utility Saigon Water Corporation (SAWACO) is undertaking a major renovation of the city’s water distribution network. It is an exciting project where ABB’s technology will be used to help reduce water leakage from 30 percent to 10 percent of total flow by 2020.

We have spent the past 50 years working with governments and the private sector in South-east Asia to address the challenges facing water usage – from water intake to water transfer and distribution, from desalination to water and wastewater treatment in municipal, industrial and irrigation sectors. Given the predictions around population growth, consumption and urbanization, the next 50 are set to be even more challenging and will call for even stronger collaboration between all stakeholders.

The success of the Singapore International Water Week this year is a very significant and promising sign that we can overcome future challenges when we work together. We are convinced that with the use of ingenuity and technology we can drive economic growth and prosperity for the people of South-east Asia without consuming the earth. It is essential that, together, we commit to sustainable solutions and embrace technology. That way, our ideas, solutions and water resources will never dry up.

[1] World Bank: http://blogs.worldbank.org/water/what-non-revenue-water-how-can-we-reduce-it-better-water-service

2 PUB in a Straits Times interview : https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/water-loss-in-singapore-comparatively-low

About the author

Johan De Villiers

I am the Managing Director for ABB Southeast Asia.
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