Could IoT avert UK's water crisis?
Water companies are finally embracing new technologies which could help avert the UK’s water wastage crisis.
The government issued a dire warning on Wednesday that rivers and wildlife could be left without sufficient water unless action is taken to reduce its use and wastage. Currently an estimated three billion litres are lost per day.
Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd called on industry to innovate and “pursue ambitious water resource management plans” to address the leakage problems.
Such plans are already being made around Internet of Things intelligent sensor technology.
Ian Banham, Microsoft’s technical sales lead for the IoT in the UK, told BusinessCloud that it and partner firm Tech Data are in talks with many of the water companies about deploying projects.
“I’m dealing with water companies at the moment who've been collecting data via dial-up modems for the last 25 years,” he said. “They’ve really jumped on to the IoT in the last six to eight months.
“They’re looking to connect up the pumping stations and analyse the flow of water within the pipes to try and detect leaks and make their processes more efficient.
“They’re looking to save large sums of money by being able to react better to large rainfall and manage where the water is.”
The projects involve smart sensors on manhole covers and in storm drains which feed data back about water levels at far more frequent intervals than has been possible in the past.
“In the last 25 years they've collected data but haven’t had the means to store it or analyse it to find out what's going wrong and do something about it,” he explained.
“They only got the data when it was too late because it only sent it back every hour so, which is too slow during a particularly heavy rainfall. With this technology they can react more quickly.
“A lot of the water companies have storage facilities for water so, if they have that data, they can move water about to avoid floods and sewage overflows.
“That is massively important because they're only allowed so many sewage flood incidents per year and, as soon as they go over that, the fines can run into millions of pounds.
“If sewage gets into people’s houses, they have to move the family out for five to eight months to replaster and refit the inside of the house and get everything clean. The costs are enormous and the PR side of it is disastrous.
“The cost of the project is significant but the potential savings from it, over the lifetime of those sensors of ten-plus years, are fairly monstrous.”
Speaking at Tech Data's IoT on Wheels roadshow at Salford Quays, Banham says that many of the responses to the data can be automated through analytics programmes which take in data in ‘near real-time’.
“It can pick up on events of interest and communicate them forward to other systems or people to get them to do something,” he said. “In many cases, there's no need for humans to even be involved.”
He added: “Industry in the UK is finally waking up: there's been a lot of conservatism with regards to the IoT – sit back, wait and see what other people do and then think about doing it.
“We're reaching that point now where there's a lot more interest from companies in the industrial sector to talk to us and look at projects we can help them with.”