Recent advances in power infrastructure have revolutionized the way we consume energy. The same might happen for our water infrastructure, but not until we implement technology that allows us to understand and optimize our usage.
In just the past few years, clean and sustainable energy has advanced by leaps and bounds. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are achieving cost competitiveness with fossil fuels, and contributed 22 GW of capacity to the American power grid in 2016. Families are spending less money on energy than ever before, and because of more sustainable consumption practices, greenhouse gas emissions have reached their lowest levels in 25 years.
And while there are countless factors driving this trend towards energy efficiency — from a declining coal industry to the introduction of more affordable methods for generating renewable energy — consumers themselves have played a significant part in facilitating the shift. Personal home technology has made it possible for people to monitor and limit their energy use to cut their power bill and save the environment.
But energy represents only one part of the overall move toward sustainable consumption habits. What about the world’s most important and increasingly scarce resource: water? What’s preventing us from conserving and optimizing our usage of water on the same scale and level of sophistication as we do power?
Advanced Metering Infrastructure
When the American power grid was first being developed in the early 20th century, energy efficiency simply wasn’t a consideration for the grid’s designers. Power was so cheap and easy to produce at the time that measuring the efficiency of its consumption was hardly a priority, nor was serious thought given to the environmental impact of its production. Today, exponential population growth and a scarcity of resources has made the need for precise metering more obvious.
Efforts made over the last decade have modernized many aspects of our century-old power infrastructure. According to the Department of Energy, the transformation has been one from “a centralized, producer-controlled network to one that is less centralized and more consumer-interactive.” The crux of this transformation has been advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
As power companies become more adept at pricing electricity on what it costs in real time, they’ve also equipped consumers with “smart” devices that allow consumers to set price-based limits on the amount of energy they use. This IoT-enabled technology empowers consumers (property owners, landlords, and tenants) to save both money and energy, while giving utility companies visibility into their infrastructure and any problems that may arise within it.
What’s Holding Up Water?
So if it’s possible for energy, can we use that same technology to monitor and reduce our water consumption? The answer is yes. In fact, technology like the WINT water intelligence platform is even more advanced than standard AMI because it relies on the Internet of Things and cloud technology to compare usage patterns between water systems, properties, and even specific fixtures. This gives property owners greater context for the numbers they’re seeing across their own portfolio, and in turn offers actionable insights into how to improve the efficiency of water consumption in their buildings.
But because this technology was developed only recently, adoption isn’t anywhere near the rate of AMI-enabled energy infrastructure, or Smart Grids. Speaking at a panel on the increasing maturity and relevance of water intelligence technology, the head of Apple’s Global Conservation Program Laura Meadors cited this lack of adoption in explaining the sluggishness of water conservation efforts. “There’s only so many conservation-oriented actions you can take, because you don’t know how much water you’re using, don’t know when you’re using it, and don’t know what processes for which you’re using it,” said Meadors. “Getting infrastructure out there, getting smart meters out there, is the first step in doing that.”
Luckily, forward-thinking companies are quickly catching on, with major companies in the tech, commercial real estate, and medical industries installing the WINT platform into the water infrastructure of the properties they own and lease. The technology presents an exciting opportunity for organizations and individuals to work together in pursuit of truly sustainable consumption practices — and come one step closer to saving our planet’s precious resources.