Five Ways to Implement Smart City Innovation in Storm & Sewer: Critical for Managing Climate Risk
Wastewater—Storm & Sewer—is behind the curve on the spectrum of innovation and digitalization (I know I mixed those metaphors…). Our infrastructure reminds us of this after every storm. In many communities, floods and heavy rains are becoming more frequent as the climate changes. It isn’t just a sewage problem either: it’s a mobility issue. Public health. Environment. Traffic. Access.
It’s all connected.
The potential value of digitalized Storm & Sewer is substantial, not least because (1) it is the last unmetered utility, and (2) flood and overflow impacts are experienced beyond the utility and across the community, impacting mobility, human and economic health, & the environment.
Consider the value of each of these in Storm & Sewer:
- Effective IoT. A network of sensors, drones (above and belowground!), cameras, and other devices provides a continuous stream of data on the status and performance of treatment plants, pipes, lift stations, regulators, outfalls, pump stations, and other equipment.
- Clear Insights. Dynamic visualizations display ambient temperature, air quality (including odor), pipe condition, water quality, volume, capacity, velocity I&I, discharge, load, vegetation, debris capture, and other data on operations, performance, or potential safety hazards.
- Accessible, Actionable Information. Tracking and managing above- and belowground flooding, backups, overflows, surface water impacts, and usage during storm events vs. dry weather. Information fuels action, whether it’s emergency response or daily maintenance.
- Automation Based on Data. Real-time controls require real-time data across systems. Accurate models require empirical data. Brilliant decisions require accurate and comprehensive insights that come from data.
- Bring in the Big Data. Analytics that use AI and machine learning combine this data with design limits of plants and equipment and external data such as weather forecasts and process it to determine appropriate actions, either manual or automated, immediate or forecasted. Short-term responses or long-term improvements.
It’s already happened in the power industry, which exhibits significant correlations to the water/sewer industries:
- CapEx increases and utilities have to spend more to upgrade aging infrastructure and harden systems against climate risk (sound familiar?)
- Sophisticated customer expectations are set by growth in tech companies
- Accelerated technological advances drive rapid cost declines, which fuel growth of deployment technologies and disrupts the incumbents.
In fact, the ideal power company has real-time situational awareness of its generation, transmission, and distribution assets.
As a result, power utilities see reduced operations and maintenance costs; improved system efficiency, reliability, and resiliency; longer asset lifetimes; improved energy trading decisions; reduced fuel waste; lower carbon emissions; and better visibility into cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
In order for these changes to be successful in the Storm & Sewer industries, we need to combine digitalization with innovative technology and innovative business models.
Doing so allows us to effectively address the smart city space—each aspect of which excludes the most critical overriding element: Climate Risk.
Climate risk impacts every aspect of a community; it therefore impacts every aspect of a smart city.
- Traffic. Transport networks underpin economic cities competitiveness and social function. Mapping flooding and flood risk above and belowground mitigates damage to infrastructure and prioritizes reroutes and retrofits.
- Environmental health. The interaction of rising temperatures, more heat waves, and the heat island effect will be increasingly harmful to people’s health and the air and water quality in our communities.
- Manufacturing. As climate change makes extreme weather more frequent and/or severe, it increases the annual probability of events that are more intense than manufacturing assets are constructed to withstand, increasing the likelihood of supply-chain disruptions.
- Public Safety & Mobility. Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States and are increasing as a result of climate change. Failing to evacuate flooded areas or entering flood waters can lead to injury or death. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and 1 foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
- Education. Chronic low prioritization of funds and resources to support environmental health in schools and lack of clear regulatory oversight in the U.S. undergird the new risks from climate change. Climate impacts in education are tied to those associated with impacts to human health and social equity.
- Healthcare. The health effects of climate disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.
- Smart Buildings. One large sector where cities can lead the way is constructing and retrofitting buildings to meet carbon emission goals and to use nature-based building designs like green rooftops. Buildings and their construction account for 36% of global energy use and 39% of energy-related carbon emissions annually, according to the United Nations.
- Water Supply. Some parts of the U.S. – in particular, the Northeast and Midwest – can expect increased precipitation and runoff, especially in winter and spring, leading to increased flooding. Other areas – notably the Southwest – can expect less precipitation, especially in the warm months, and longer, more severe droughts as storm tracks shift northward leaving arid areas increasingly dry.
- Finance. At least two categories of climate-related risks rise to the threshold of systemic risk: 1) the physical risks associated with more frequent severe weather events and lasting environmental changes and 2) the transition risks posed by the policy and technological changes necessary to achieve a greener economy. Such changes could strand carbon-intensive assets and affect the value of other financial instruments.
- Infrastructure. Increased precipitation can lead to infrastructure damage and soil run-off; decreased precipitation can lead to increased water pollution due to a drop in water flows; increased air and water temperatures lead to more rapid evaporation and asset corrosion; and sea level rise could affect both the availability and quality of water supply due to saltwater intrusion into groundwater aquifers and distribution networks.
- Social Equity. Initial inequality causes the disadvantaged groups to suffer disproportionately from the adverse effects of climate change, resulting in greater subsequent inequality. Significant risk factors include—but are not limited to—flooding (and associated damages, from which it is difficult to recover even when in good financial health) and heat island impacts. Focusing on data, not demographics, removes the stigma and facilitates change. The whole cannot succeed without the commensurate success of each part.
- Lighting/Energy. The United States Department of Homeland Security has defined 16 critical infrastructure sectors that are considered vital to the “security, national economic security, and national public health or safety” of the country: chemicals, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear, transportation, and water and wastewater systems. Across these infrastructure sectors, climate change will impact physical assets, operations, and use.
While treating everything within our communities (including our smart cities!) as interconnected—and everything as impacted by our overarching climate—is not a common approach right now, I believe that it will be mandatory within the next decade.
At StormSensor® we believe that people can create thriving communities only with a comprehensive understanding of and adaptation to climate risk, both now and in the future.
As long as enough people believe alongside us, together we can make a great difference in our world, and thrive with its innumerable and variable changes