IoT may have changed the face of the water industry, but where are the limits?

The Internet of Things, or IoT, along with the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT, have altered the water industry inexplicably since its introduction. But while many of its benefits have been extolled, there are certain limitations even the internet is bound by. In this article, Water & Wastewater Asia explores IoT’s benefits and limitations in the water and wastewater industry.

Mr Remy Marcotorchino, Director of Marketing, Industrial & Infrastructure, Sierra Wireless

When IoT first burst on the water industry, it was regarded with suspicion and enthusiasm in equal measure. Both adopted and ignored, it changed the water industry in ways no one expected, altering business strategies and giving rise to new business models. But as businesses continue adopting IoT in an ever-increasing rate, Water & Wastewater Asia talks to Mr Remy Marcotorchino from Sierra Wireless, and takes a look at how IoT has impacted the water arena.


Q IIoT has influenced innovation, and is the driving force behind the development of new business models and raised productivity as well. Are there any other business factors IIoT or IoT has driven forward?
RM IIoT is also critical for enhancing consumer relationships, such as addressing issues more proactively rather than waiting for issues to come up, and also strengthens the relationships OEM vendors have with their customers.


Q In your estimation, how has IIoT and IoT made operating water networks easier, other than offering positive predictive reactionary times, value-adding, cost efficiency, and reducing leakages and by extension, non-revenue water?
RM They have both made operating water networks easier because it allows you to avoid costly infrastructure spending by proactively assessing issues before major breaks, alongside other issues. Thus, the asset lifetimes of water utilities are increased.


Q Water treatment plants are notorious energy and electricity guzzlers. Will IoT really help reduce energy and electricity consumption?
RM Water treatment plants are at the heart of the electricity-water nexus. It takes a coordinated approach to reduce electricity and energy consumption when water production is involved. When water is saved, energy is saved, and thus incentives to save on water use can be a way to save energy.

Saving water can be enabled by the IoT through leakage detection mechanisms and improved automation systems to optimise equipment operations and reduce water consumption.


Q Will it impact water sustainability?
RM By enabling reduced water usage and quickly addressing leakages, IoT can help water sustainability.


Q As IIoT and IoT continues to progressively become more intelligent, what does it mean in terms of employment and skills? How can the workforce be prepared, especially in the water industry?
RM Major utilities will need to adapt to the IoT revolution and big data analytics. Even though IoT technology will make sure equipment is easier to install and monitor, there will be a need for IT people to understand data gathered and get the right insights from it.

Also, making sure to know the ecosystem to challenge vendors and void technology pitfalls such as relying on standard technology and avoiding vendor lock in. The more open the standards the utilities use, the more future proof their IoT installations will be.

In essence, utilities need to become savvy enough to challenge their vendors and choose the right technology path.


Q What is the most interesting use of IIoT and IoT in the water industry, in your opinion?
RM Sensor analytics to improve infrastructure, lifecycle, among others, enable more of a paradigm shift between water and electric utilities. As they start to use similar IoT systems to monitor, bill, and operate their systems, many synergies can be found, which could lead to joint programmes to improve energy-water sustainability. The more cooperation between water and electric utilities, the better.


Q What effects do IIoT and IoT have on us in terms of privacy and personal autonomy? How much privacy and personal autonomy must you be willing to risk to reap the benefits of using IIoT or IoT, especially in the water industry?
RM The topic of privacy is critical in all markets, not only in the water industry. Opt in/opt out mechanisms have been successfully implemented to go around this issue in segments like electricity that can be leveraged on by the water industry. It’s all about optimising water usage and avoiding wasting scarce resources.


Q How much can we trust IIoT and IoT? Can humans be removed from the loop, especially in the water industry?
RM Even though the goal would be to remove humans from the loop, this will take time. For example, as much as we hear about autonomous cars, the reality is much different, and it will take time to have fully autonomous cars roaming the roads due to safety issues and much more.

The same barriers exist in the water space. IIoT and IoT will accelerate this transition, but it will take time as regulators and the public become more comfortable with the new technologies. However, it does not seem that far out technology-wise, and water utilities can remove humans in a lot of monitoring and control tasks, which they are already doing.


Q With the IIoT and IoT, what should and shouldn’t be connected, and why?
RM As it relates to water, what should be connected are water meters to control and optimise usage, avoid leakage along pipelines and infrastructure, and make sure leaks are discovered proactively in aging infrastructure, and that water and wastewater plants automate operations and save on cost.


Q As of October 2016, there were more than 15 billion users of IIoT and IoT in the world, and data security is becoming a huge issue. A growing interest in IoT could result also in a growing number of cyber criminals. How can you ensure that your data is safe and secure, when there is a serious potential threat?
RM Solutions need end-to-end security from the device to the cloud, with layered security protection throughout to fend off a breach. Tactics include rotating secure keys and leveraging encryption mechanisms at the device level, as well as avoiding unlicensed spectrums as opposed to licensed spectrums, which offers more security options and capabilities.


Q What advice would you have for water business leaders who are interested in IIoT or IoT?
RM The advice I have is not to be afraid of the IoT revolution that is touching every market. Get savvy enough to challenge vendors and avoid lock in to non-standard technologies. Open standards are the key to future-proof any IoT implementation.

And make sure there is end-to-end security as opposed to cloud-only or device-only solutions. It needs to be a comprehensive solution from a security standpoint from day one of specification and implementation of IoT systems.