Smart Water Summit 2019 Addresses The Needs to Bring Infrastructure into 21st Century
Beginning in the mid-1800s, the Industrial Revolution drove modern utility infrastructure into cities worldwide, installing wires, poles, transformers, lighting, water and wastewater pipes, pumps, tanks, and lift stations. By mid-20th century, the infrastructure surge peaked as the Interstate Highway System paved its way across America. Rural electrification and water systems expanded. A comfortable complacency settled in as infrastructure hummed along, cities grew, suburbs expanded, and devices inevitably aged with use.
The original infrastructure – electric grid, water and wastewater, gas, and roadways – laid the foundation for the Space Age, the Computer Age, and the still-evolving Information Age, which has morphed into the emerging Cloud-Analytics-Blockchain Age. Now in the early 21st century, much of the original infrastructure has exceeded its life expectancy.
The aging of America’s infrastructure is well established. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2017 report gives US infrastructure a D+ grade. Water specifically gets a D in the report, with many pipes 100 years old still in use. Astonishingly, wooden water pipes have been unearthed and still in use in Pennsylvania, DC and Washington State. We exist in an exciting but challenging transitional age between aging and emerging technological paradigms characterized by IT/OT convergence.
Today, a new layer of intelligent, sensory infrastructure is being overlaid on and added to assess, monitor, and manage new and older physical infrastructure. Intelligence embedded in chips is becoming highly concentrated, pushing automated decision-making out to the edge of previously one-way, dumb infrastructure.
The rollout of digital, or virtual, infrastructure is evolving at such a feverish pace that once cutting-edge Advanced Meter Reading (AMR) is already being outpaced and overridden by Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). Following a few years behind electric utilities’ experimentation with and implementation of these technologies, the water-wastewater industry is now undergoing its own digital integration and transformation.
In August 2019, the 6th annual Smart Water Summit, hosted by Aroga Summits and CMG Consulting, convened with several hundred industry executives, managers and vendors in Scottsdale, Arizona. The summit sought to accelerate the drive to bring US water infrastructure into the 21st century.
With heavy emphasis on adding digital IoT sensors, cloud technology and analytics to water infrastructure, dozens of hardware and software vendors pitched their products and services in closed, 20-minute ‘boardroom’ sessions to industry executives and managers from ninety-one utilities across America.
Designed around real-world use cases, vendor pitches sought to inform and reassure normally risk-averse utilities that, like their equally cautious electric and gas brethren, the time has arrived to experiment with and implement new digital, intelligent hardware and software technologies. Just as smart phones and computer operating systems exhaust their usefulness and vendor support, so utilities will need to embrace new tech to stay current and relevant.