Digital systems in water supply – help in hot summers


An undetected burst pipe can cause immense damage in homes and buildings. This can be avoided with intelligent water meters, which sound the alarm in the event of unexpected water consumption. It is particularly useful in large gyms or uninhabited industrial areas, says energy and water economist Mark Oelmann from the Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences. “Broken pipes do not go undetected and owners can be notified.” The way water takes to and from the consumer has also been digitally supported for a long time. How does this work? A look at the technology for World Water Day on Monday (March 22nd).

There are many possible uses for digital technologies and artificial intelligence in the field of water supply. Oelmann mentions the filtering of pollutants from the water with the help of activated carbon as another example. Technical monitoring solutions could determine the optimal point in time at which the activated carbon needs to be replaced because it no longer cleans sufficiently.

Controlling water consumption with the help of digital systems can also help avoid short-term, regional water scarcity, for example on hot summer days.

An example: According to the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW), anyone who fills a pool with a diameter of 3.66 meters in their own garden uses around 6500 liters of water – as much as a person on average in 52 days. If many households pursue their personal bathing fun in one street, local bottlenecks can arise. Digital systems can record when which customers use how much water. The prices could then be set as an incentive to shift demand – for example, customers could fill the pool more in the evening because it is cheaper then.

In a study on the status of digitization in Germany, scientist Oelmann evaluated information from almost 190 water suppliers. The process, according to Oelman, is more than just installing new technology. “Rather, a holistic redesign is to be expected, which is not limited to IT systems, but affects all areas of a water supplier and wastewater disposal company”. He sees employee training as one of the most important elements.

An essential point in the digital transformation is the protection of the systems against attacks from outside. According to Oelmann, IT security must always be taken into account. “You don’t stand still, the hackers keep developing too,” he says. This is particularly important for the water supply, because it is about a basic supply and all people are affected.

An incident at a water utility in the US city of Oldsmar (Florida) recently caused a stir. Using software, hackers more than tripled the sodium hydroxide content in the water. The manipulation was noticed and could be reversed before the poisoned water reached the people.


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