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Smart water management through ICT-enabled energy networks

Katrina Destree Cochran | July 9, 2014

During the EU Sustainable Energy Week in Brussels, I had the pleasure to moderate a unique workshop hosted by the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI), “Smart water management through ICT-enabled energy networks”. It was unique because of the wide range of issues covered: the UN’s increased attention to water, practical examples from companies, knowledge-based tools to understand impacts on bio-diversity, and research on building networks in an energy efficient way. By exchanging such diverse perspectives, participants deepened their understanding of smart water management through ICT-enabled energy networks.

The first two speakers provided a global perspective. The UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN agency for telecoms, each showcased how their initiatives value smart water management. The UNFCCC described its partnership with GeSI and illustrated the role of ICT in their Momentum for Change Initiative. The UNFCCC emphasized the need for countries to understand their water related risks and the corresponding contributions from the international community. The ITU described its new focus group on smart water management as a key element to realize smart and sustainable cities.  The ITU has found that it is necessary for ICT to be embedded into Smart Water Management systems to get timely data and react to changes quickly. The ITU also noted the challenges of water stressed areas as well as regions with excessive water. Both scenarios have dramatic impacts on communities.

Then practical examples of on-line tools were described. AT&T presented highlights of their water efficiency tool kit that enables customers to reduce water usage and calculate water efficiency.  This tool kit was developed in collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund in the US. AT&T also conducts a water footprint and audit as part of its own sustainable operations.  Describing the company’s smart water management projects, AT&T mentioned that one investment realized a return in just two years, while yielding immediate savings in their operational expenses.

Managing water has an impact on our bio-diversity and companies are becoming increasingly aware of the relevance to stakeholders on this issue.  The next speaker was from the International Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the largest global environmental organization that brings together more than 1,200 state, government and NGO members in 160 countries and collaborates with 11,000 experts and scientists to protect nature. The IUCN is also well regarded for its decade-long collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Recently, the WBCSD/IUCN published a guide for businesses that serves as a framework for understanding the benefits and values of eco-systems where companies operate. The IUCN also demonstrated another on-line tool for mapping and learning, which shows users how to learn about protected areas by region.

Schneider Electric presented the energy sector’s view on how ICT is a critical component for sensors to allow an energy network to be managed in a faster and smarter way. Energy networks rely on ICT to transmit the data, so that water can be efficiently distributed. Fault repairs along the grid can be handled more efficiently when data is made available – again, by ICT embedded into the energy grids. A smart water video illustrated these concepts.

A highlight of the workshop was learning about how the demands for increased M2M driven ICT solutions would be managed in a responsible way. Ultimately, energy efficiency within networks and access to affordable energy could make or break the entire discussion.

GreenTouch™, a research consortium led by Alcatel-Lucent, presented the ICT part of enabling energy networks and noted the Green Meter research study.  GreenTouch™ highlighted the need for low-powered/autonomous and cheap devices as well as energy harvesting and energy storage for ICT-enabled smart and sustainable cities and communities.

As the GeSI workshop demonstrated, smart water management is critical to a sustainable future and the demand for intelligence and automation through ICT is increasing.  To realize sustainable cities with smart water management, we need  deeper collaboration.  Collective input from stakeholders will empower affected communities to manage water and energy related challenges – and ICT can be an invaluable tool here. With an extremely high rate of participation among participants, the GeSI workshop definitely provided inspiration to look at how ICT can enable energy networks in a responsible and sustainable way.

The program and more information about GeSI can be accessed here.

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