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The smart water-energy nexus

By Amir Cahn 


Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) recently conducted a global utility survey in order to get a current snapshot of water utility networks, including their challenges, opportunities and areas of focus. The diversity of utility respondents provides a great lens through which to view current utility thinking and practices related to smart water networks. 

Energy is required in all stages of water production and distribution, from pumping and treatment to transportation. The survey found that energy costs are a top-of-mind concern for water utilities, regardless of geography, size and level of water network efficiency. And energy costs are the third-largest expenditure for utilities–accounting for 16 percent of utility spending on average.  Conversely, improving energy efficiency is seen as a key opportunity by water utilities. 

A key metric in the water world is non-revenue water (NRW), which measures both real (physical) losses and apparent losses, caused by theft or measuring inaccuracies. Utilities spend a significant amount of time and money reducing their NRW rates and this is a topic of much discussion in the water world.  When utilities in the survey were categorized by whether they had low or high NRW rates (low being preferable), there were marked differences in their views.  Interestingly, however, the one topic utilities agreed on—regardless of their NRW rates—was the fact that energy is a significant challenge.

Following in the footsteps of the smart electric grid, water distribution networks are evolving into a smart water grid. As water utilities seek to make their networks more efficient—including reducing their power requirements and operating costs—a growing number are adopting a “smart” approach to managing and controlling their networks. In fact, experts estimate that up to $12.5 billion can be saved through the implementation of smart water technologies.    

A “smart water grid” can be defined as a fully integrated set of data-driven components and solutions that allow water utilities to optimize all aspects of their water distribution systems. Smart water solutions improve the efficiency, longevity, and reliability of a utility’s underlying physical assets by better measuring, collecting, analyzing, and acting upon a wide range of network events. This can impact different dimensions of the water utility work, from day-to-day operations, to maintenance and network planning. By adopting a set of data-driven ‘smart’ technologies, a utility can more accurately set goals, plan investments, and address some of its largest challenges, including energy efficiency, leakage, regulatory compliance and customer service.  

Amir Cahn is SWAN’s market research manager. To view the SWAN Utility Survey Report, or for more info, please visit the SWAN website at:


Other recent water articles in our smart cities archives:


Smart energy managers--from water, power, buildings or other industries--should think about attending the Utility Analytics Summit April 9-11, 2014 in Raleigh, N.C. to plan for the data deluge to come. Click here for more information.



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