Utilities: Where Data Flows Like Water at the Speed of Light

(Image courtesy Flickr Creative Commons)

More than a decade ago, the choices were few to address the needs of data gathering and recording. Water and wastewater utilities, for example, had to be able to use a ‘one size fits all’ unit with set parameters and make their systems adaptable to the technology of the day. Since then, many municipal water systems, such as those in Southern Utah, have had to broaden the area from which they gather, use, and reclaim water. Most growing areas are even facing the dilemma of higher demands on services while trying to stay within shrinking budgets and manpower cutbacks. This is because in the past, many viewed electronic data gathering as a ‘want’ instead of a ‘need’ until now.

As with any limited resource, scarcity often drives innovation as people are tasked to do more with less. Such is the current state and convergence of water/wastewater utilities and the Internet of Things (IoT) – an emerging paradigm in which more data and information can be gathered and acted upon during the processes of collecting, treating, monitoring, and distributing water. With the unprecedented demand for cities and municipalities to maximize water resource allocation, local government officials began implementing smarter methods to address the challenges of today and hurdle the potential obstacles in the future. By using new technology in the form of sensors, IoT networking and data analytics, city officials, local citizens, and businesses are now more accurately predicting everything from crop yields to at-home water conservation. This technological evolution is part of a much larger undertaking that has both garnered international attention and prompted action all the way to the Federal level of the United States government.

Smart Cities Initiative Connected

In response to the new Smart Cities Initiatives, cities around the country are beginning to take advantage of the $160+ million in Federal research and technical collaborations to help their local communities tackle key challenges such as lessening traffic congestion, reducing crime, fostering economic growth, creating jobs, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services and quality of life.

According to a White House fact sheet on Smart Cities, emerging technologies have “created the potential for an ‘Internet of Things,’ a ubiquitous network of connected devices, smart sensors, and big data analytics. The United States has the opportunity to be a global leader in this field, and cities represent strong potential test beds for development and deployment of IoT applications.”

Given the growth of these highly connected networks, Smart Cities are using wireless communication technologies to build critical infrastructure and support public services. According to the research firm Gartner, an estimated 1.1 billion connected things were used by Smart Cities in 2015, with this total rising to 9.7 billion by 2020.

What Is on the Horizon for Utilities?

As Smart Cities initiatives continue grabbing headlines and captivating imaginations, public utilities and their customers have the most to gain in the short term. Coordination and collaboration amongst a cities’ local government, utility operators, researchers, and technology vendors is key to bringing these “smart initiatives” to light. For example, Orlando, Florida was a destination of choice for many involved in these smart city transformations, as DistribuTECH 2016 brought approximately 12,000 people together from more than 60 countries across the globe to keep the focus on the future of electric power delivery and a smart utilities infrastructure.

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