Building a roadmap for a smart city

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By Jedrzej Bylka*

Few people will remember 1936 as a year of transformational change for water management, yet it marked a departure point from the traditional way of thinking about urban water system management that was revolutionary. That year, American structural engineer Hardy Cross presented the methodology for analysing and determining the flow and pressure modelling in water distribution systems, which would become the foundation for developing computer models.

Since Cross’ publication, computer techniques are being developed and used in all areas of the water industry, improving the efficiency of water services for billions of people around the world. Water distribution systems are increasingly computerised and automated, and technologies such as SCADA, GIS, automatic billing, ERP, and databases are used daily to improve services.

By combining these tools with human knowledge and experience has enabled Smart Water Networks to be built, but the multitude and diversity of new technologies is evolving so rapidly that regulations and international standards have struggled to keep pace. The water sector finds itself with an urgent need to establish international guidelines for implementation of computer tools in water utilities and water-wise cities.

This need is being addressed by WIDEST, a project established by the European Commission to facilitate the application of best management practices and smart technologies in water utilities, and the water sector more generally.

Earlier this year, during the Water Ideas Conference organised by the IWA Specialist Group on Water Loss, Young Water Professionals (YWPs) from numerous countries came together to reflect on the implementation of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and to validate the roadmaps developed in the WIDEST project. The meeting sparked fresh ideas and solutions for tackling the global water challenges in Smart Cities.

Smart solutions in water networks are developed by experts from various areas, including universities, industry and consulting; this has led to the term ‘Smart City’ to be understood in different ways. Some definitions pay special attention to data transfer and communication between the computer systems and users. This perceives a Smart City as a scheme of connections between databases used in various systems.

Other approaches see the Smart City as a set of challenges and opportunities rather than a set of ready-made solutions. For example, water network challenges can be linked to minimizing water loss, more efficient energy consumption, or providing water resources for future generations. While there is no  single correct pathway in which smart cities can be realized, ensuring that all stakeholders share the same definitions is an essential starting point to develop the necessary common vision. This will aid and accelerate the implementation of practical actions that deliver the solutions for current and future global water challenges.

The dynamic progress in adopting new technologies requires water utilities, governments and users to change their way of thinking about water distribution system management. While standards and a common language are needed to leverage the technologies that improve the quality of water services, it must be stressed that not only technological challenges need to be addressed to arrive at Smart Cities. To successfully develop a Smart City concept, we must also take social, educational and communication aspects into consideration.

Read the full outcomes report of the YWP workshop “Roadmaps to ICT for Water in Smart Cities’.

*Jedrzej Bylka is a Research Assistant in Environmental Engineering at Poznan University of Technology.