Digital Twins Bring the Future to Water Management

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Digital twin technology can help organizations improve their system operations, transform their water cycle management and extract value from their distributed data. (Picture and caption courtesy of Idrica.)

Digital twin technology can help organizations improve their system operations, transform their water cycle management and extract value from their distributed data. (Picture and caption courtesy of Idrica.)

While more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, only 2.8 percent is freshwater and less than 1 percent is drinkable.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 884 million people lack access to drinkable water. Moreover, 4 out of 10 people worldwide need to compete for water.

Of all the Earth’s freshwater, 48 percent is for agricultural use, 22 percent for energy production, 6 percent for industrial applications, and 24 percent for residential use like flushing toilets and cleaning. All sectors face the same problems of water waste or inefficient use. The coming climate change will worsen these problems, as more droughts and floods will make the distribution of water resources even more uneven.

The water cycle has many components, including renewable water sources like dams, lakes, groundwater, water plants, water towers, wastewater treatment plants, and water usage locations like buildings and homes. Reducing water waste or recycling wastewater more effectively is a priority on each of these points.

All these water usage points can be made smarter by Internet of Things (IoT) probes that monitor water usage or  water quality. Moreover, using IoT probes in the context of digital twins will further improve the efficiency of water usage.

A digital twin is a virtual copy of a system that simulates its operation. A digital twin consists of data-collecting sensors installed on the physical system and data analytics and decision-making capabilities. By collecting a large amount of data from the physical system, a digital twin provides a holistic view. In addition, the digital twin can simulate hypothetical scenarios and help us prepare for operating the system under various circumstances.

According to Idrica, a leading international technology company in the water sector that specializes in digital solutions, a digital twin requires a large quantity of data from the physical system to be effective. While many companies have collected large amounts of information on their systems, datasets still need to be integrated into a single platform.

According to the experts at Idrica, in addition to the single platform that integrates all the sensor-collected information from a system, a digital twin for the water sector should also have hydraulic models, advanced analytics and a powerful, user-friendly dashboard system.

“Once processes have been digitally transformed, and infrastructures have been equipped with sensors, the next logical step is to extract value from all this data. Digital twins are one of the best tools to do this, as they deliver a holistic, cross-cutting vision of all the data they compile,” stated Pilar Conejos, digital twin manager at Idrica. In addition to simulating scenarios for better decision-making, digital twins also help develop use cases and optimize day-to-day operations.

 Digital twins offer several benefits for the water sector, according to Idrica. First, they enhance the resilience of an organization. By simulating various scenarios, including emergencies, health alerts, and climate change-related events, digital twins can help an organization better anticipate potential problems and be more agile in its responses, reducing risks, time and costs. In addition, digital twins can help increase efficiency by optimizing the systems in an organization. Moreover, digital twins can enhance customer-centric management. As an organization is better able to anticipate potential issues and formulate response plans, it reduces the disruption of its service to its customers. Lastly, digital twins can help make not only systems but also larger infrastructures more sustainable and resilient in their response to climate change through planning, optimal infrastructure management and citizen participation.

In a home, a digital twin can help reduce water leaks. In a city, a digital twin can help monitor incoming floods. On a farm, a digital twin can help agricultural workers use water more efficiently to address potential droughts. Finally, a digital twin can help cities and industries maintain water quality by measuring the contaminants or pollutants in wastewater.

The current global climate of uncertainty has accelerated the adoption of digital twins in the water sector. Their application in drinking water distribution, sanitation and sewerage systems has accelerated across the globe. Starting in 2022 and onward, digital twins will be one of the most widely used tools to tackle new challenges.

However, the successful deployment of digital twins “will require utilities to overcome a number of challenges in the coming years, which may act as a barrier to market uptake,” highlighted Conejos. These challenges include poor data quality, the location of remote systems making them difficult to connect, and the need to keep a simulation model up to date and operational in real time. In addition, “investments must go hand-in-hand with an innovative organization and culture if they are to be successful. If there is something implicit in digital twins, it is a new way of working,” concluded Idrica’s expert.