Smart Solutions: Increased ICT adoption for water and waste management

Increased ICT adoption for water and waste management

As the foundation of public health and safety, water constitutes the most essential component of the Smart Cities Mission (SCM). According to a World Health Organization report, the majority of the population lives in cities, and this population is projected to grow by 70 per cent in the future. With a large number of people migrating to cities, the pattern of resource consumption is becoming increasingly imbalanced. Smart water management (SWM) is a solution that incorporates information and communications technology (ICT) and real-time data and responses to provide proper insight regarding the flow, pressure and distribution of water for increasing the level of water utilisation per individual. Smart water infrastructure focuses on recycling and reusing wastewater, rainwater harvesting to meet the growing demand for freshwater, and managing solid waste. In order to better manage water distribution networks and streamline the waste collection process, cities are increasingly deploying smart technology solutions in their day-to-day operations.

Technology solutions

Smart meters and monitoring systems allow the measurement of real-time water consumption, identification of waste points and projection of future consumption. Smart meters enable water production and distribution managers to accurately measure the quantity of water being supplied to each consumer and improve their revenues. With respect to consumers, the automatic meter reading (AMR) systems ensure transparency by eliminating faulty meter readings. Sensus, a Xylem brand, has been selected as Larsen & Toubro’s (L&T) technology partner to ensure the successful implementation of the Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) innovative 24×7 water distribution project. Aiming to supply continuous water supply and significantly reduce water loss, PMC has invested in over 275,000 Sensus iPERL smart water meters to monitor, measure and manage activity across its network. In 2018, the Surat Municipal Corporation upgraded to ABB’s digital water management solution.

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) enables remote monitoring of the water supply distribution system and its various process parameters such as water quality (pH, turbidity and residual chlorine), process variables (flow level and pressure), and control elements (electric actuators for valves. This helps in managing the issues of inequitable distribution of water and tracking water wastage. The Ahmedabad and Bhopal smart cities, among others, have installed SCADA systems for real-time monitoring of water treatment and distribution.

Smart cities are increasingly relying on GIS to improve water supply system efficiency. GIS is a computer-based tool that helps in the collection, storage, processing, analysis and electronic presentation of spatial data in the form of digitised images of aerial views or published maps. The planning of municipal services such as drainage lines and water network lines can be done accordingly. Varanasi has deployed GIS technology to ensure sustainable operations and maintenance of the current and future water supply and sewerage assets in the city.

Smart bins are being installed by various cities to clear waste systematically. These bins have GPS-enabled sensors that send out a signal once they are filled to the brim. This signal is communicated to contractors/corporations regularly to ensure timely clearance. Under the centre’s SCM, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation has installed smart sensors in 150 bins in the city till date.

Challenges in implementation

A major challenge faced in the implementation of water and waste management has been the lack of funding. Cities need to access funds from other sources such as private investments in the form of PPPs, municipal bonds, or loans from bilateral and multilateral agencies. For instance, the Pune Municipal Corporation has raised funds through municipal bonds for the implementation of the 24×7 Water Supply project, an initiative under the Smart Cities Mission. The Chandigarh smart meter project, a part of the 24×7 water supply under the Manimajra initiative, has had to be re-tendered several times due to the poor response from investors and contractors. It is, therefore, important to design contracts that ensure fair and even risk distribution for the parties involved. Most urban local bodies (ULBs) do not possess up-to-date information on the collection, transportation, treatment, disposal and infrastructure facilities in their areas. The absence of reliable and accurate data with ULBs makes it nearly impossible to accurately determine the current service backlog and future requirements in the area.

The road ahead

There is a noticeable increase in the adoption of ICT-led technologies such as smart meters, SCADA-based operations, GIS, GPS-based vehicle tracking, smart bins and geo-tagging in Indian cities. The central government has announced several initiatives that reflect a conducive policy and regulatory climate for water and waste management companies. For example, in the February 2020 budget, it launched the second phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission, aimed at tackling shortages in 100 water-stressed districts. These policy initiatives provide major opportunities to private sector players to offer better water and waste management solutions and tap the significant potential of this industry.