Editor’s Comments: Working Smarter

June 1, 2018

DUSTY CHAPARRAL, RED sand, and ocotillo cacti sped by the window for hours as writer Ryan Bradley drove off-road through Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. When he finally pulled over for the night, the sun had slipped over the distant hills, turning the dry landscape a rosy pink.

His throat tightened. Would the water production system in the bed of his truck work? Would he have enough water to survive?

Bradley walked to the back of the truck and said a silent desert prayer over the hydropanels. According to the system’s designer, Cody Friesen, a professor of materials science at Arizona State University, the Zero Mass Water panels could produce up to 5 liters of water a day. But would they work after a day of bouncing in the back of a truck? The journey was an experiment…and one he had bet his life on.

To produce water, the system’s solar-powered fan blows air across the surface of hydrophilic membranes. Solar heat causes the moisture to form droplets, which are collected in a reservoir at the system’s base. This innovative design, and the myriad of other water-production concepts currently in development, exemplify water technology’s potential to shift the landscapes we travel and alter both where and how we live.

The pump groaned and wheezed. Then, much to Bradley’s relief, water trickled out, representing a small victory for water technologies, and a full canteen for the adventurer. For him, it meant that he could cross even the most rugged terrain. For those of us in the water industry, it means that ways to better manage our resources and achieve greater efficiencies are on the horizon.

Advances in water technology have changed the way we experience the world, as well as the way we operate our water systems. Today’s advanced filtration methods, remote monitoring devices, networked sensors, smart meters, and intelligent pumps have modernized our infrastructure, enabling us to work smarter, not harder.

As a result, equipment connectivity has surged in the US. By 2027, American water utilities are projected to invest $8.3 billion in smart water infrastructure, according to a recent study by Northeast Group LLC. In fact, more than 80% of the water utilities surveyed had either invested in or are looking to invest in smart water infrastructure to improve their operations.

Today’s technological innovations support efficiency goals by enhancing the performance of our water systems and reducing non-revenue water. In honor of this, Water Efficiency magazine is pleased to share examples of infrastructure optimization and technological innovation. We bring into focus the sensors, software, and equipment that bridge data streams, bringing heightened responsiveness to our equipment along with new opportunities for efficiency.

In “The Automation Advantage,” we look at the many ways automating pumps and valves can help streamline utilities by offering them precise control over pressure and flow. By not having to go into the field to manually adjust equipment, organizations with automated infrastructure are able to save on labor costs, capitalize on off-peak energy pricing, and prevent leaks and line breaks by reducing pressure at key points of the system.

In “Water, Water Everywhere,” we look at the mechanics of water filtration and the advances in purification technology. From natural sand filters to membranes, ultrafiltration methods, and reverse osmosis, separation technology has grown more sophisticated and efficient. And today, graphene-based membranes with pore sizes down to the atomic level are providing innovative, energy-conscious solutions.

In “Pipeline Assessment,” we trace the condition assessment process of four utilities and observe the evolution of water agency decision-making. In doing so, we gain a firsthand look at the way that capturing more data leads to better-informed decision-making and improved asset management.

In “Irrigation IQ,” we learn about smart technologies that contribute to efficiency by offering enhanced control. Controlling variables with weather and soil moisture sensors helps irrigation professionals apply water when and where it’s needed. Operating pumps remotely can reduce labor costs. Controlling pressure levels with pressure regulators and flow sensors can prevent runoff as well as pipe breaks.

Advancements in water technology augment our systems, helping us use energy intelligently, avoid needless water loss, and maximize our impact as water professionals. With highly attuned sensors, bridged data streams, and optimized flow control, these innovations offer us opportunities for efficiency, as well as new horizons to explore. How is your organization using technology to work smarter?
About the Author

Laura Sanchez

Laura Sanchez is the editor of Distributed Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.