• Carbon Reduction
  • Smart Water
  • Water Infrastructure
  • Climate Change
  • smart cities

Smart Water Solutions Can Help Meet the Challenges of Climate Change

Serkan Birgel
Oct 14, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

With unwanted global records for extreme weather events, 2021 has been another year of solemn news. In Italy, Sicily awaits verification of the hottest temperature recorded on the European continent of 119.8°F (48.8°C). The previous record was set in Athens, Greece in 1977. Wildfires have blazed through Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Algeria, which, together with severe flooding in northwestern Europe, claimed over 300 lives. Hurricane Ida provided a seasonal reminder of powerful climatic events, generating unprecedented rainfall in the northeastern US. In April 2021, the US was also gripped by the costliest winter storm on record, which killed at least 136 people and wreaked havoc on power supply.

Climate Change Contributes to Extreme Weather

Climate change intensifies the hydrological cycle, which generates more intense rainfall and associated flooding and intense drought. The intensification of the water cycle leads to an increase in wet and dry extremes. Regions already prone to flooding or water scarcity are likely to be challenged further. For cities, the confluence of urbanization and population and economic growth (leading to increase water demand), constitute a focal point where smart water technologies can be used to mitigate and build resilience against the foreseeable challenges of climate change. Reuters anticipates that the cost of flood damage in the US could increase up to $32 billion by 2050. The water-energy nexus is also important. In 2015, the International Water Association suggested that water and wastewater utilities account for up to 7% of a country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Smart water deployments can be applied in many relevant domains to promote and safeguard the efficient and safe use of water resources. Dublin, Ireland has installed LoRaWAN-connected rainfall sensors to aid flood management. Frankfurt, Germany has commenced an imaginative urban irrigation pilot to help conserve water resources. Singapore has an integrated water management endeavor that aims to maximize the collection and reuse of water, together with the use of desalination. The focus on water often features in city-wide smart city plans, such as those recently unveiled by the city of Rome, Italy.

Smart City Projects Can Incorporate More Smart Water Projects

Beyond city-level deployments, there can also be multiple decentralized, autonomous smart water deployments of varied scales. Internet of Things and AI technology can be leveraged to provide a cost-effective way for developing countries to detect water leakages. Reducing real water losses in transmission and storage, for example, and apparent water loss (water lost through theft or metering inaccuracies), helps to improve the performance and financial viability of service providers in lesser developed parts of the world, where water insecurity can be more acute. Low tech water management solutions can also be effective. For example, the European Union funded the WATERSPOUTT project, which demonstrated the use of solar disinfection in rural African communities.

However, despite these recent city-level applications, smart water projects in cities are still comparatively uncommon in the broader smart city landscape. Cumulative projects tracked by Guidehouse Insights have increased in number overall—Guidehouse Insights’ Smart City Tracker 3Q21 provides an updated total of 798 tracked smart city projects globally. However, only 35 of these tracked, municipal-level projects retain a focus on water applications. These include smart water meters, smart water treatment, flood detection, and wastewater epidemiology. Given the immediacy of climate change, more work must be done for smart water projects to attain the same visibility and traction as other smart infrastructure initiatives in energy and transport.