Smart water grid in the works

Information technology companies IBM and Intel are working on a smart grid for another precious resource: fresh water.

09/09/2009


Even as billions of dollars are being spent around the world to modernize the electricity grid, the systems to deliver fresh water are also in desperate need of a 21st century upgrade, according to CNet News . A smart water grid could provide the technical architecture required to more efficiently use fresh water, only 1% of the available water on Earth.

IBM is developing a portfolio of information technology-related water management technologies, a business that it estimates can total $20 billion within five years. At a water conference next week, IBM and Intel will be forming a working group to study how information and technology can be used to improve water management, according to IBM.

Water systems, even in developed countries like the United States, are notoriously outdated. Faulty pipes-some of them still made of wood-result in 25% to 45% lost water. That means high-tech approaches, such as using sensors to gauge water quality, are a tough sell to cash-strapped municipalities, most of which are more concerned with maintaining the basic infrastructure.

Upgrading the water utility infrastructure is analogous to the many smart-grid technologies now being tested to make the grid run more efficiently and use more renewable energy.

Gathering and processing information on the status of delivery allows water agencies to better manage their operations. For example, if a water authority can use meters or sensors to locate problems, such as leaks or sewage overflows, they can cut their maintenance costs, Williams said. Smart water meters that could provide more accurate consumption data and new sensors that can track the level of pathogens or chemical contaminants are also in development.

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