Water infrastructure and management play a key role in the development of smart cities, and smart cities of the future must intelligently address the related areas of water and energy to fully achieve resource efficiencies. So says Jacob Pereira, analyst for smart utilities infrastructure at IHS Technology in a new report.
One successful example he points to is Bismarck, North Dakota, a small city with a population of 61,000 that’s recently seen two progressive utilities work together to improve water infrastructure operations.
Overall, the effort to modernise water infrastructure has made slow progress in North America, even though advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is being installed at an increasing rate every year. This year smart meters — the centrepiece of the AMI system — will make up 48% of the continent’s total market for water meters, which also includes basic as well as one-way devices. Smart meter shipments are climbing, and will account for 73% of the North American market in 2020.
Bismarck’s initiative points to a new path for many municipalities struggling to control their budgets while hoping to still invest in modern water management technologies. In particular, many communities face challenges in attaining a return on investment on the most expensive aspect of implementing AMI networks: the communications infrastructure needed to route the meter and network sensor data to the utility back office.
The key to Bismarck’s efforts is its selection of Itron Inc. in August — not only to help modernise its water delivery infrastructure, but also to provide communications services and to manage the critical data management tasks. The municipally-run water department in Bismarck partnered with Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU), already a client of Itron’s with its own AMI network installed for its electricity and gas delivery systems.
The savings realised for the water utility are primarily centered on not having to invest in its own
communications infrastructure, but additional benefits are realised through outsourced AMI expertise. Moreover, the water utility is outsourcing the management of the IT and data analytics, another important trend in the evolution of smart utilities and smart cities. Itron then hosts the intelligence and analytics for the utility, with the promise to fully leverage the AMI network to achieve a smarter water utility. Capital costs will go down, benefits will go up and the water utility will be able to take a significant step forward in modernising its infrastructure.
Ultimately, it makes sense for water and electricity utility companies to combine resources in order to increase capabilities and reduce waste. By following the Bismarck model and heeding the crucial water-energy nexus, other cities in similar circumstances can upgrade their water infrastructure, in the process making their communities smarter and much more efficient.