The future of our cities depends on our better understanding of the many layers that comprise it as a system. Without that understanding we cannot hope to efficiently and effectively manage the resources and many subsystems that make a city what it is, like transportation, water distribution and sewage networks, electricity grids and healthcare systems.

Water-energy-food nexus is at the heart of the problems and opportunities that cities are faced with. We, at Stage AI, are passionate about making cities more sustainable and ‘smarter’, and therefore we have focused most on the areas of water and energy systems analysis and management. In these blog series we intend to share a bit of the problems that we see are present in those systems across cities, as well as how our solutions can help in resolving those complex issues that influence us all, no matter where on Earth we reside.

One of greatest threats globally is that of a global water crisis which some argue is on the way and some claim is already here. Water crisis is already present around the planet from China and India, to the Middle East and North Africa, to California to Chile. Water supply and demand are diverging, leaving us with a projected gap in supply of 40% by 2030 around the globe, because of increased urbanization and many other socio-economic factors. By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas, at the same time, many people already live without adequate water provision and risk of diseases. Climate change adds more strain to the overall picture that will deeply affect our current water systems. Changes in rainfall patterns , changes in the chemical makeup of the worlds’ oceans and our water supply systems will have to adapt to this changing context, while at the same time providing more people with less reserves of water. (Ref. CreativeCommons Water paper)

The water crisis is not a crisis of scarcity, it is a crisis of management. There is no shortage of water on this planet. There is, however, a shortage of effective systems of organization for managing the provision of that water with the necessary data about the water systems being managed.

In practical terms this means that our focus will have to shift from looking at water sources and volume of input, to the internal organization of water networks and how to develop systems of organization that can achieve a radical jump in the effectiveness with which we use water and there is vast opportunity for this given the nature of our current water supply systems and the emerging paradigm of IoT technologies.

By 2030, global water requirements could grow to 6.9 trillion cubic meters – 40 percent above the current reliable supply – from 4.5 trillion cubic meters in 2009. There is no single water crisis, however; each country faces a unique and complex system of problems – McKinsey & Company

In the context of climate change, our water supply resilience through agility should move to the forefront of future water system requirements. Creating agile and resilient infrastructure is what the Internet of things is set to deliver. Placing sensors and actuators throughout water supply networks, gathering data and performing advanced analytics enable us to cross correlate information from many sources and turn it into actionable insight. This brings us closer to the vision of water providers to become preemptive instead of reactive. This is what we aim to deliver with our Water Management system – early insight and preemptive actions through the integration of data across the water networks. Combining it together with weather, hydrological and other data sources for the proper planning and management of water resources.

Water networks can become more transparent and understandable through sensors, hydraulics models and machine-learning based models which we use in order to offer utility managers the needed access to real-time information about water reservoir levels, consumption, system demand and pressure points. In addition to that our system generates predictions on all important metrics and applies anomaly detection capabilities for example for leak detection and localisation across the network.

By doing something as basic as integrating weather information into the infrastructure can increase the system’s abilities and allow a water catchment system to drain dry before a storm to ensure limited overflow, thus turning a reactive water utility into a proactive water utility. If we could design distributed water systems with sensors and actuators to take full advantage of the coming age of big data this would hold out the possibility of a future water infrastructure that is greatly more resilient to changes in the environment. (Ref. Water Systems Innovation, Complexity Labs Publication)