Cutting water consumption with the smart use of data

Hydroinformatics knowledge exchange meeting plunges into the digital transformation

The digital transformation of water utilities is about data, but not data alone. Social and organisational factors also play a major, if not decisive, role. These two perspectives came together during the fourth knowledge exchange meeting of the Hydroinformatics Platform, which focused on the drivers of the digital transformation in the water sector, and zoomed in on the use of data to predict and monitor water demand at a detailed level.

The Hydroinformatics Platform organises its knowledge exchange meetings in the context of the Joint Research Programme of KWR and the water utilities (BTO). An important goal is to exchange practical experience on the basis of a relevant theme. The last meeting turned the spotlights on how drinking water utilities are going through a digital transition and how this digitalisation can help to monitor and influence domestic water consumption. Presentations were given by researchers from Technische Universität Berlin and KWR.

Drivers for the digital transformation

Digital technology can help drinking water utilities to address challenges in the sector. At the same time, technological push often seems to the primary factor. That makes it unclear to what extent expectations are realistic and whether the best approach is to seek a technological solution for every challenge. Andrea Cominola (TU Berlin) told the meeting about his research, which involved interviewing 64 water utilities around the world to find out what drives them to undergo a digital transformation. The key drivers to emerge were the economic benefits (reducing costs and/or operating more cost-effectively) and climate change (such as the challenges of increasing water shortages). On the basis of his results, Cominola concludes that the techniques for digital transformation are adequate. However, effective adoption and application in cities to provide water security requires support from all stakeholders, including customers, business managers, staff and policymakers.

Modelling water demand for sustainable drinking water systems

Mirjam Blokker (KWR) discussed the options in place for modelling water demand at the domestic level. One of the models is SIMDEUM (SIMulation of water Demand, and End-Use Model), which was developed by KWR. This model generates stochastic drinking-water demand patterns at the level of individual taps and on a second-by-second basis. In this way, drinking water utilities can get to grips with domestic water consumption, and the design of sustainable and hygienic drinking-water systems with low energy consumption is coming within reach.

A data-driven drinking water utility (source: Andrea Cominola)

Smart water meters deliver long-term water savings

Andrea Cominola then took the floor again to talk about his research on the effects of smart water meters on domestic water savings. He distinguished between three types of driver for saving water: observable factors (such as household characteristics), hidden factors (such as habits and awareness), and external factors (such as temperature and water price). Cominola and his colleagues established strategies for each of these factors to influence water use through customised feedback, such as understanding levels of consumption during individual showers. In this way, we ended the meeting with a nice example of a data-driven approach, using data from smart water meters to provide customers with suggestions about how to save water.