Creating a unified digital water playing field

ICT4Water unites multiple digital water projects across Europe.

Dubbed one of the biggest, European-wide digital collaborations now helps water companies to use a common standard when it comes to their digital transformation journeys.

Starting in 2012, the ICT4Water cluster began life as a hub for European Union (EU)-funded research and innovation projects on ICT applied to water management. As the European Commission (EC) increased its focus on the digitalisation of the water sector, the cluster has grown to include over 60 projects.

It has since been addressing technology understanding and adoption gaps, bringing together multiple projects and stakeholders to exchange experiences.

A unified playing field
ICT4Water intends to help provide consistent, unified standards to promote the transition of ICT technologies in the water sector, from pilot scale to wide market uptake. The aim is to create a European borderless “digital single market” for water services.

Joep van den Broeke, senior scientific researcher and project manager at KWR, said: “The water sector will benefit from a unified playing field and standardised ways of working. At the moment, that is lacking, and it hinders the adoption of new technology.

“Digital tools can help organisations perform better, to be more cost-effective and cost-efficient. They can also help to retain knowledge within organisations when facing the challenge of a soon to be retiring, ageing workforce.”

One of the most significant achievements from the ICT4Water cluster has been the inclusion of the water sector in widely accepted standards organisations. The SAREF-Water standards have been added to the ETSI, the European Standards organisations domain of standards.

Lydia Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia, programme director of Watershare, continued: “We now have the standards for data exchange in the water sector. It’s similar to a USB port for standardisation – this didn’t exist for the water sector. But at least there is now the SAREF-Water standards.”

Another outcome from the cluster has been the enrichment of the FIWARE platform with data models relevant to the water sector.

“By facilitating this standardisation of water-related data models, coupled with the interaction with EC, it will help to support the adoption of common digital services across the European water sector,” added van den Broeke. “The setting of standards, in general, can help drive digital adoption. Some water utilities are a bit more reluctant, and there are also many different solutions, with each one providing a different piece of the puzzle.”

Furthermore, an action plan was written in 2018 and is currently being revised, with the view to take it to 2023.

Moving beyond smart meters
ICT4Water’s cluster has focused on multiple areas:

  • Sensors for monitoring water use and quality in real-time
  • Big data analytics to support effective and time sensitive decision making
  • Applications for consumers to drive sustainable changes in consumption behaviour
  • Complex control systems to minimise energy use at all steps of the water lifecycle
  • Novel means to identify water leaks and reduce water losses and improve forecasting of water demand

“The digitalisation of the water sector has moved from smart meters and smart applications to the next step, which is how do we integrate the Internet of Things (IoT) technology and applications and domain,” Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia added. “This leads to interoperability and the real-time management of water systems and utilities using these systems in a very connected way.”

Despite the progress, the Watershare programme director also said there remains reluctance from some European countries to put data into the cloud, with a preference for local storage.

“This is the equivalent of insisting we ride a donkey in an age of cars,” she said. “That’s the misconception of the previous generation. To change this, policies are needed; otherwise it won’t change. There is a need to synchronise with current needs and trends.”