Providing digital solutions to water companies

According to a report measuring water governance in cities, the main cause of water wastage in urban areas is poor infrastructure. The water industry of the future will need to be smart and resource-efficient, and the current water industry is characterised by a lack of adoption of ICT solutions across the board.

Pipe burst image

Academics from Birmingham City University are working with United Utility, a UK-based water company, and Greek technology firm, Singular Logic, to develop a solution. The IoT4Win project utilises smart sensors, Internet of Things, big data and AI technologies to solve several water use challenges, including providing real-time updates on the quality, quantity and demand for water in urban areas.

The challenge – monitoring and reacting to water loss, supply and demand

The analogue nature of urban water infrastructure doesn’t support the capacity for real-time updates and the fragmentation of the sector has resulted in mixed adoption of IT technologies. The lack of a live system means water leakage and supply/demand issues are not dealt with efficiently, resulting in a loss of important resources or a drop in service.

Using array of smart technology sensors to provide real-time updates on the quality, quantity and demand for water, the project will monitor the pipe network across a section of United Utility’s jurisdiction. This will enable daily operations to be better coordinated and water losses to be identified more rapidly, ultimately resulting in water saving and increased overall efficiency. By using smart metering and providing a complete analysis of water use and misuse across urban areas, there is also the potential to find new ways to provide accessible and affordable water to services users.

The delivery

The IoT4Win project team is working closely with United Utility and other stakeholders to test and evaluate the reality of a smart sensor network in an IoT-enabled environment. Currently, utility companies still have doubts about the use of ICT/ IoT in the industry, making the IoT4Win project a test case for future smart water system developments. The project aim is to develop an open, secure and resilient platform that can work in the IoT environment and in conjunction with current infrastructure. This incorporates developing sensors and control systems that can support a water monitoring solution and share and with current, industry-standard equipment for decision making support.

Success to date

The IoT4Win project is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research, which has allowed continued collaboration between Birmingham City University and the project partners as well as training three next generation pioneer entrepreneurs in IoT-related technologies for smart water management. The project team have tested the use of IoT sensing equipment on previous sites in similar projects, which have demonstrated the benefits of optimal sensor placement and monitoring system in water distribution networks. Use of Smart sensors and an integrated water management platform in Spain have resulted in quicker crisis action when faced with water scarcity in the hotter, Mediterranean climate, whereas use of the technology in Germany supported the utility company’s efforts to monitor energy efficiency when pumping water from lowlands to highlands.

Looking to the future

The future of the project splits into two main avenues. The first is improving infrastructure and service. Use of advance sensors and IoT should help limit and locate water leakage in pipe networks and actively monitor water quality, which has the potential to benefit UK water companies and international communities. The second avenue is culture change. This means facilitating greater engagement with utility services and government bodies to increase the adoption IoT and modern technology in our water networks. The technology has the potential to meet global challenges and help preserve our most precious resource.

Wenyan Wu

Wenyan Wu

Professor in Advanced System Engineering
Professor Wenyan Wu has extensive interdisciplinary research experience across Computing, Engineering and Technology. She believes in embracing new technology to improve infrastructure and produce more sustainable outcomes. Her knowledge and expertise range from water and environment engineering to virtual and augmented reality.
She is currently working on a number of projects in the water-infrastructure space, including the Horizon2020 IoT4win project, which aims to introduce smart sensors to water utility networks. Armed with more data concerning the quality and demand for water, utility companies will be able to make informed decisions and reduce water wastage.

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