Water scarcity is one of the biggest issues mankind will face. Many areas around the world are experiencing constant water shortage. This is not only an issue for underdeveloped areas, but also for first world countries like the United States. Nearly a billion people do not have access to safe water. Climate change and population increases are making it even tougher to provide clean water to all. Furthermore, the existing infrastructure is inefficient and costing cities millions of dollars each year. For this reason, cities all over the world are bringing innovation to their existing systems using big data, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things to increase water management efficiency and decrease overall water waste.

On May 11, NUMA New York hosted a panel with key players in startups, corporates, and government to discuss the issue of water management and the future of water tech. Our expert panelists included Jason Whittet (Smart Cities, AT&T), Kristin Bell (Senior Project Manager at NYCEDC), Frank Zammataro (President at Rentricity), and Ed Hackney (Director, Solutions Architecture at SUEZ).

 

“Water and utilities were using data before data became cool!”

Ed Hackney of SUEZ, a french based utility company, described the connection between big data and water. “Water and utilities were using data before data became cool!”- says Hackney. Data can be used in so many ways. Companies can gather data on anything, including water pressure in pipes and water usage, and use this data to make better decisions. However, in comparison to the total number of companies in the industry, the number of companies taking advantage of this data is still quite small.

In addition to a wider adoption of big data, Hackney also sees potential for cyber security and artificial intelligence in the water industry. There are 150+ water related servers out there and it’s important that technicians understand how to protect them from cyber threats. In regards to Artificial Intelligence, no other technology has grown as much as AI in the last 5 years and it is almost inevitable that it will find its way into the water space as well.

One innovative company that has combined technology and water is Rentricity. Rentricity built a unique energy recovery solution that uses the excess pressure in water pipes to produce clean usable energy. This is a revolutionary technology considering nearly 80% of water pipes use less efficient gravity based valves. Rentricity’s technology can save a city more than 600 million dollars in energy costs and almost a trillion dollars in deferred maintenance costs. In addition to monetary savings, Rentricity’s technology significantly reduces energy waste.

 

To overcome these challenges startups and the public sector must work together...

Innovative companies such as Rentricity are rapidly gaining the interest of corporates and government entities. Unfortunately, there are many challenges in bringing these technologies to market, and the main issue is infrastructure. The current infrastructure is centralized and implementing small local innovations is difficult. Furthermore, investing in large central innovations is a lengthy process and for this reason, governments are hesitant to invest in young startups.

In order to overcome to these challenges, startups and the public sector must come together. Kristin Bell, Project Manager at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, states that creating ecosystems of knowledge and access to funding is a great way to start. In a recent development, the New York City Environmental Protection Agency signed a grant program to program to promote new water systems. The NYCEPA grant is a signal that things are moving in the direction of Smart Water. New York appears ready for change, and we may see a rise in water tech coming to NYC in the imminent future.

 

NYC has invested over 10 billion dollars in water management...

In the last 5 years, NYC Department of Environmental Protection has also made major moves in the area of water conservation. In July of 2014, NYCDEP launched a toilet replacement program.  Through the program, NYC residents can receive a voucher to purchase a more efficient WaterSense toilet at a discount. The change can save an average of 4 gallons of water a flush.

The DEP has also launched The Municipal Water Efficiency Program. Through the Municipal Water Efficiency Program, the DEP will invest in water conservation projects to increase efficiency in public buildings. The DEP has already partnered with the City University of New York, The Fire Department of New York, the Department of Education, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. It is estimated that this program will save 9 million gallons of water a day.

In addition to these programs, NYC has also invested over 10 billion dollars in water management infrastructure. These efforts are part of NYC’s Water for the Future plan which aims to reduce total water consumption in NYC by 5%.

 

As citizens it is in our power to fight against water waste...

As citizens an important step we can take to support this issue is limiting our own water consumption. The average person in NYC uses a lot of water, almost 100 gallons of water a day. That’s almost twice as much as the average person in Europe. Did you know close to 75% of this water usage happens in the bathroom? Unfortunately, a good proportion of this water is being used unknowingly. A small toilet leak, can waste 30 gallons of water day. If undetected, Toilet leaks can get much worse and can even waste as much as 2,000 gallons of water a day. Learn to check for toilet leaks here. As mentioned before, switching to a more efficient toilet will not only save almost 4 gallons a flush, it will also make costly leak leak. Upgrades can also be made to a traditional showerhead. A new low flow shower head can save up to 5 gallons of water per minute. Minor upgrades around the house and common tricks such as using leftover bottled water to water plants, are great steps into decreasing water consumption. If you’re worried about how much water you’re using, invest in a water meter. They are easy to use and by monitoring your water usage you are almost guaranteed to save on your water bill. 

 

Smart water is in!

Smart water is in! Local governments, big companies, startups, and individuals are decreasing water consumption and working together to improve water management efficiency. Through innovation and collaboration we can overcome these challenges and create a better tomorrow for all.