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COMMENTARY

Tapping the cloud to make water smarter for all

ALL the water that we have at the moment is all the water we will ever have; no more, no less. As Jacques Cousteau said, "the water cycle and the life-cycle are one", so how we use this valuable resource is key to our future prosperity.

In South-east Asia, growing population and rapid urban development bring great strain to our fresh water supplies, so now is the time for us to come together to make every drop count.

Transformation is 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 equally phenomenal thanks to the foresight of the Singapore government and the nation's water operators. Singapore now serves as a shining example to others in how to harness smart water technology.

According to the World Bank, some 32 billion cubic metres of water were lost globally in 2016, half of which occurred in developing countries. To put that in context, while developed cities have a water loss rate of 5 to 7 per cent, some major cities in the region have losses of over 50 per cent. Singapore's loss rate stands at less than 5 per cent, and together with a closed national water system, this means every drop is used to its full potential.

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The largest challenge is how we manage infrastructure. Often built decades ago, it leaks and creaks, struggling to keep up. Every drop lost has a detrimental impact on the environment. One key solution is harnessing new technology alongside ageing infrastructure, connecting it through wireless technologies and the cloud (of the data and network type, rather than of rain…)

"Smart water" technologies, which are evolving and developing every day, do exactly this. By 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, all the while enabling resources such as manpower and energy to be used more efficiently.

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Technavio, the US research group, forecasts the global smart water network market to grow by about 15 per cent between 2017 and 2021 due to the rise of smart cities. According to the study, smart water networks are among 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 and has demonstrated how advanced technologies bring new levels of efficiency, productivity and performance.

Another standout 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 maintain 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 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 per cent to 10 per cent 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 urbanisation, 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 is a very significant and promising sign that we can overcome the 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 embracing technology. That way, neither the ideas, solutions nor our water resources, should ever dry up.

  • The writer is managing director, ABB Southeast Asia