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  • Writer's pictureWill Sarni

Big Data, connectivity, remote sensing trickle down to water

The biggest trends in connectivity could have big implications for how we manage water.


We already know that technology can help catalyze emissions reductions and increase energy efficiency. But how might macro tech trends like increasing connectivity, remote sensing and Big Data analytics manifest when it comes to daunting water quantity and quality issues?

For one possible indication, consider the January 2001 launch of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), which consisted of global Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies to provide information on resources and addressing social and environmental issues through technology applications.

Framed as a mission to build, “a sustainable world through responsible, ICT-enabled transformation," GeSI's recent SMARTer2020 report demonstrates how the increased use of information and communication technology could cut projected 2020 global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.5 percent, amounting to $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel savings and a reduction of 9.1 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) greenhouse gases. That's equivalent to more than seven times the ICT sector’s emissions during the same period.

As documented in the SMARTer2020 report, “emission reductions through ICT solutions come from virtualization initiatives such as cloud computing and video conferencing, and also through efficiency gains, such as optimization of variable-speed motors in manufacturing, smart livestock management to reduce methane emissions and 32 other ICT-enabled solutions identified in the study.”

The power of these technologies in addressing issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency was framed by GeSI as it relates to six sectors of the global economy: power, transportation, manufacturing, consumer and service, agriculture and buildings.

After seeing sustainability gains in other fields, it is now time to harness the power of ICT in addressing water challenges in the public and private sectors.

Global challenges

Leveraging ICT technologies can be a powerful force in closing the gap between water supply and demand, along with providing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for all while driving economic and business growth.

For context, water withdrawals are predicted to increase by approximately 50 percent (PDF) in developing countries and 18 percent in developed countries by 2025, leading to more local competition for water.

A 2030 Water Resources Group report (PDF) provided a view of water scarcity global and within selected regions.

Water Resources Group (WRG) lays out plausible scenarios for water supply, water demand and the “water gap” on a regional scale, concluding that by 2030 — assuming an average growth scenario and if no efficiency gains are realized — global water requirements will grow from 4,500 million cubic meters to 6,900 billion cubic meters. That's about 40 percent above current accessible and reliable supplies.

In addition, nearly 780 million people worldwide lack access to safe water, and 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)/United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation (World Health Organization (WHO)/United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, Progress on drinking water and sanitation: 2012 update.

The economic impacts of ineffective water resource management are also becoming increasingly apparent. These effects will likely limit economic development and greatly exacerbate rural poverty, particularly in emerging and developing economies.

The question is how to we accelerate the adoption of ICT to solve the most challenging water problems tied to water? Fortunately we are making progress.

Connected water

Through digital applications the world is increasingly connected and data are increasingly available to drive smart decisions regarding the use of resources.

For example, we can now collect data remotely, which is being accomplished by the NASA GRACE satellites collecting data on global water resources, through the use of drones with mobile applications.

Machines can now communicate with each other and with us (as with mobile phone apps). This connectivity is resulting in the more efficient use of resources and the creation of new business models.

Increased connectivity is being driven by Big Data, remote sensing, machine-to-machine communication and digital applications such as social media. The power of connectivity is also emerging as a driver for precision agriculture.

Whether it takes the form of traditional agriculture companies buying data and information companies, or agriculture machinery companies embedding smart sensors into their products, a wave of innovation in connectivity is taking place.

This year the Stockholm World Water Week will focus on “Water for Development” recognizing that water is essential for economic development and business growth.

The application of ICT and remote sensing technologies — along with innovative partnerships — could be the game changer we need. Hopefully its one that will actually help close the 40 percent gap between water supply and demand projected by WRG, enabling improved well-being along with economic development and business growth.


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