Peter Williams of IBM’s Big Green Innovations Discussing Smart Water
Great interview by Galen Sanford of the BlueTech Blog with Peter Williams, the CTO of IBM’s Green Innovations Unit.
According to Williams, the single most important improvement to water infrastructure is embedding information technology so that more effective management can happen. We agree: what water needs is the application of all the best practices, insights and network management approaches that have already suceeded in telecoms, IT and a myriad of industrial operations systems. Otherwise, pipe and valves are sentenced to silence, making it difficult to assess and manage the network’s health.
There is a twist, of course, since water infrastructure has certain unique characteristics. A great example is night-time. With IT systems, nights are great – few users tax the system and therefore outages are less likely to occur. Water systems at night actually experience more pressure, since users don’t reduce pressure by consuming water. Pressure builds up in the pipes, and dramatic bursts are more likely to happen in the dead of night (pressure may be reduced during peak demand, and increases when demand reaches a trough).
Williams stressed that the application of IT to water systems is not an option, but a must:
“The bottom line is if you don’t invest in that kind of development, you’re going to recreate the kind of water infrastructure we’ve got today, which is energy intensive, requires way too much concrete and steel and is arguably not the best way to meet some of the demands that we’ve actually got.”
Peter is slightly pessimistic about the likelihood that utilities are looking at smart water approaches:
“I could show you an example — I’m not going to name them — where we demonstrated that applying a more analytic approach to the management of their combined sewer overflow could probably save them about $15 million bucks worth of new sewer. We proved it, and they still went ahead and built the new sewer. That’s what they do — “Hey, we’re concrete and steel guys”
But still concludes that the market is going to happen, and happen soon, because of sheer neccesity. There just isn’t enough water.
Conversely, we actually see (a) a real interest on the part of many large utilities to get their hands on water infrastructure management solutions IF they don’t require installing physical equipment or embarking on lengthy implementtion cycles (b) utilities that are using quite a lot of smarts to monitor their systems as well as they can. A good example is Thames Water’s Active Leakage Detection approach.