Water is essential for life on Earth, but it is a finite resource. The data compiled in reports by organizations such as the UN, UNICEF, and the FAO point to overexploitation of water as the main cause of scarcity, with between 43% and 50% of the world’s population not having access to drinking water.
Against this background, optimizing water management is a major, highly necessary strategic task. As a result, utilities are beginning to look into ways of sustainably exploiting this resource using technology.
2023 is set to be a year of innovation, and of technologies maturing in sectors such as agriculture and energy, areas which dovetail completely with water. It is also set to be a year in which faster connections and artificial intelligence will facilitate a new approach to optimization, driving further progress in these strategic areas.
Optimizing irrigation in agriculture
Agriculture is a strategic sector which is essential for rational land management and planning, as well anchoring the population to the rural environment. These two challenges can be tackled by improving competitiveness and becoming more efficient in terms of intermediate resource use and consumption.
However, future constraints, such as population growth, will put further pressure on this sector, as food production is set to increase by 60%, with the consequent hike in water consumption. Given this scenario, optimizing the use of water used for irrigation is a challenge in which infrastructure and consumption monitoring will play a key role in the coming years.
In this context, technology can provide tools for information analysis, as well as faster reaction times, thus speeding up the resolution of any network incidents. It is therefore essential to digitally transform irrigation distribution networks, as a vehicle for significantly reducing the volume of non-revenue water, cutting production costs, and promoting environmental sustainability by decreasing water and energy consumption.
In this sense, there are high-impact technologies that can optimize irrigation in agriculture, and these will be on trend in 2023:
- 5G NR:
5G NR technology can transform integrated water management thanks to greater speeds, enabling much faster data analysis in real time. This, in turn, will lead to optimized agricultural irrigation systems. This technology is also very useful in remote areas, where it is often difficult to obtain real-time data.
- Smart irrigation
Smart irrigation works by using only the amount of water that is really needed, based on a series of factors, i.e., crops’ real water needs, soil moisture status and weather forecasts. The combination of information obtained from field sensors and weather stations will increasingly be incorporated into technological solutions that use advanced algorithms to calculate the frequency and amount of water needed. This can then automatically adjust irrigation scheduling to cater for these requirements. Environmental sustainability is thus improved by optimizing water consumption and, consequently, reducing energy consumption.
- Remote sensing
This technology brings valuable information about crop conditions without the need to deploy assets in the field. Satellite imagery is used to build a map of vegetation and soil health through parameters such as moisture, photosynthetically active biomass indexes and nitrification.
- Remote reading
There is no doubt that the future of optimizing agricultural irrigation systems lies in remote reading. This technology improves billing cycle management (reading, billing and collection), and brings progress in controlling leaks and fraud, as well as in forecasting demand through real-time reading of customer meters and the application of advanced algorithms.
Water and energy are essential elements for all the processes that shape our daily lives. In most cases, water is needed to produce energy, and energy is needed to extract, treat and distribute water, as well as to purify and reuse it.
The demand for water-related energy is roughly expected to double in the coming decades, mainly due to population growth, rising living costs and an increasingly scarce water supply around population centers brought on by climate change. This means that water will have to be transported further, pumped from greater depths, and undergo additional treatment before it can be used.
As a result, any energy efficiency improvements, in terms of water savings, energy savings and process upgrades, translate directly into lower costs and greater economic performance, which means that organizations are constantly seeking to improve their energy optimization plans. Therefore, over the next few years, more and more strategies will be rolled out to increase and boost efficiency, as well as to reduce costs, by deploying initiatives aimed at controlling and optimizing the variables that influence energy consumption.
In this sense, digital transformation has become the backbone of these initiatives, and this will be a trend throughout 2023. These initiatives include energy monitoring, digitally transforming data, the use of predictive algorithms and collating electricity billing information.
The implementation of different energy optimization plans will be increasingly common in utilities, due to their short- and long-term benefits, leading to enhanced resource use, a lower carbon footprint and process optimization.
Artificial intelligence as an optimization tool
The use of artificial intelligence techniques can mark the difference in any optimization strategy. A clear competitive edge can be gained by taking advantage of the enormous amount of data generated by technologically mature water utilities’ monitoring and control systems. However, exploiting this data requires multidisciplinary teams and hybrid profiles with a broad knowledge of both the water sector and data science.
By applying this approach, tomorrow’s utilities will be able to manage the entire water cycle and exploit all the potential of data science. In this sense, in 2023, they will be focusing on managing the cycle’s changing conditions through models that consider all the available in-house and external field data (weather monitoring networks, etc.). This will enable the optimization of treatment plant operations, such as opening and shutting down treatment lines, and adjusting reagent dosing.
In addition, there are now proven algorithms (similar day models, etc.) that reliably predict demand, helping to distribute and store water in optimum conditions. Thanks to their deployment, the next few years will continue to see a reduction in energy costs, emissions, and the time that water remains in the networks, with all the ensuing benefits.
The relationship with users is another aspect that will continue to go from strength to strength thanks to artificial intelligence techniques, including the early detection of trends and the generation of work orders based on social media post analysis. For example, if the system detects odor complaints in a certain area, utilities will receive recommendations on opening incidents to ascertain the causes, and even connect them to work orders.
Finally, artificial intelligence will assist in wastewater treatment and discharge by monitoring and, once again, predicting changes in pollutants in wastewater treatment plants. This is key to correctly treating wastewater and ensure its subsequent return to the environment in the best possible conditions