Drinking water is a scarce resource, and the citizens of Latin America are well aware of this. The main objective of utilities in the region is to guarantee supply, control water consumption, and provide information on the availability and quality of water.
Twenty-first century citizens are more aware than ever that water is a precious resource. According to Idrica’s Business Development Director, Chema Nebot, “people do not just want to see a breakdown of their bill or see how much water they have used. They also want to know what is happening with the water in their city. They want to interact online with their supplier through new technology channels.”
According to Idrica, an international water management solutions and services company, the pandemic has boosted citizens’ interaction with their “liquid gold” suppliers. During this period, utilities have had to maintain operations and field work, guarantee supply, and invoice customers. These challenges have brought about a shift in mindset and a greater willingness to adopt digital approaches.
One of the key factors in this context is remote management, which is essential for obtaining information during a pandemic characterized by mobility restrictions. “Remote management provides key information (leaks, water consumption, outages, incidents, etc.) and also helps to solve issues efficiently and safely, both for customers and operators. This is why utilities all over the world are implementing real-time management software,” says the Idrica executive, Chema Nebot.
Latin America needs to digitally transform water billing
In Latin America, water consumption billing is often complex and labor-intensive, based on visual readings. According to Idrica, the solution lies in digitally transforming billing and collection services and management, enhancing control over the entire process and giving customers a better service through software adapted to the needs of each region. For example, this would enable billable items to be adjusted or modified quickly.
To move towards remote reading, meters will need to be renewed, though according to Chema Nebot, “the change will be happening very soon in Latin America, but it requires strategic planning to ensure a smooth transition from the old system to the new.”
Which technology to use
In Latin America, NarrowBand-IoT (NB-IoT) is a technology to be explored in the future, as it can transmit data from water meters at long range, high penetration and with good coverage. It also provides efficient battery management. At the moment, NB-IoT is not widely deployed, according to Idrica, although Chile has already started to implement the system and Brazil is weighing it up. Other technologies, such as LoraWAN and SigFox, are more established.
There is sometimes reluctance to deploy cloud computing in the water industry, since utilities manage critical infrastructures. However, for Idrica executive Chema Nebot, “this is the future. These solutions are versatile and flexible making investments much more sustainable over time. We always work with a secure, encrypted cloud that complies with the regulations established in the country of implementation. In addition, we support water utilities to guide them in their negotiations with operators and ensure continuity of service“.
Finally, “to successfully address the Latin American challenge of gaining greater control over water consumption and management through digital transformation, expertise in implementing these technologies and knowledge of the hurdles ahead and how to overcome them is essential. Cooperation at international level is a must so we can see what is working best to cater for different needs, and adapt them to each reality, which may vary even in the same country”, concludes Chema Nebot.