Water is the most precious resource on Earth — just ask the 844 million people globally that do not have regular access to a safe water supply.
Knowing this shortage, it’s almost inconceivable that 25% to 50% of the water that gets treated is wasted. And yet that’s the painful truth according to the International Water Association.
And it’s not just water. We’re also incredibly inefficient in how we produce and use gas and electricity; too much is wasted. It’s a situation that Itron, a Liberty Lake, Washington-based solution provider, is looking to change.
“If we could help utilities make changes to prevent lost resources, they’d see much better funding for client resources at a better price. It helps everyone,” said Bruce Douglas, senior vice president, service delivery and outcomes enablement, at Itron.
The key is in the data. If utility companies had a better understanding of usage information, forecasting for resources, production, and processes would dramatically reduce waste – improving the use of natural resources.
To achieve this, Itron has adapted its core utility-meter data-management solution to leverage a platform that uses in-memory database technology, allowing the processing of massive amounts of real-time data very quickly. This solution helps customers get more out of their smart grid, smart city, and industrial IoT investments. The company’s OpenWay Riva IoT solution leverages sensors, meters, and communications modules to enable real-time analysis of data over a robust, distributed computing platform.
One example: the biggest cost to water utilities is the energy required to purify and filter water to make it safe for human consumption.
“Our goal is to deliver resources more efficiently across the globe. As you can imagine, those resources not only return value to shareholders, but they also allow utilities to distribute resources to communities more efficiently and effectively. Globally, there is a tremendous opportunity for improvement in distribution of gas, water, and electricity,” Douglas said.
Better analysis, better Earth
Douglas recently spent time surfing in a remote part of Nicaragua that didn’t have power. As a result of his experiences there, he noted that the lives of Nicaraguans can be tremendously enhanced with better access to water and energy, and that more efficient energy solutions will enable utilities to expand their base in remote regions, such as those in Nicaragua, and increase the number of people with services.
“There’s a huge opportunity to help citizens be a more productive part of society by enabling them with water [that] helps them to survive. Also, bringing them into the digital age with the distribution of power will allow them to get more education and increase their participation in society,” Douglas said.
Itron estimates that, on average, 34% of water is wasted after utilities spend money to purify and pump it out to customers.
“It’s interesting to look at existing infrastructure, even in the U.S.; there’s a lot of work that can be done,” Douglas said. “As we become much more conservation-focused as a society, we can help utilities save money and be more operationally efficient. That also helps with the public perception of running as ecologically and efficiently as possible.”
Itron’s OpenWay Riva IoT solution collects and analyzes massive amounts of data, allowing utilities to react faster and improve their productivity based on real-time analysis. “In the past, our clients would have billing and operations data scattered across the enterprise. Consolidating it into one central location makes sense,” Douglas said. “It allows utilities to tell customers that they have a water leak, based on their usage data, or restore power more quickly by identifying the source of the problem faster. There are a lot of ways we can help utility customers through real-time data available across the enterprise.”
Another example is the City of Bismarck (North Dakota) Public Works, which leveraged Itron technology to better detect leaks and usage anomalies. As a result, the community’s water loss fell from 22% to five percent. Itron also helped to develop a water-conservation program expected to yield additional improvements. Meanwhile, the Clayton (Missouri) Water Authority discovered and repaired 440 leaks with Itron, recovering 5.7 billion gallons of water and saving $4.2 million in product costs during an 8 ½-year period.
“The biggest hurdle to convincing a water company or other utility to invest in a solution like this is recognizing that inefficiency occurs in the first place. Once they are aware that resources are lost or wasted, it becomes a question of when, not if,” Douglas said.
Itron also practices what it preaches, adopting powerful corporate social responsibility initiatives to minimize its own impact on the environment through onsite waste reduction, composting, and other programs. “I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting, and I can tell you that people are more interested in you if they feel they can make a difference,” Douglas said. “We feel like we’re doing great things to help the environment, people, and the Earth.”
For SAP, sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an outgrowth of our purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.