The world has changed a lot in the last few centuries. At the beginning of the 1900s, cars were a novelty that you might see now and then. Today, highways and interstates are packed with so many cars that the average driver wastes 54 hours in traffic every year. The end of the 1700s marked the beginning of the American Industrial Revolution and we've let that momentum carry us through three more industrial revolutions, bringing us to Industry 4.0 today.
Industry 4.0 isn't just impacting the manufacturing sectors. It also has an impact on the infrastructure that allows us to live safe and comfortable lives in this modern world, including the water industry. What is Water 4.0 and how is it impacting the water industry?
What is Water 4.0?
Industry 4.0 started with the industrial revolution, then moved to industry supported by electricity in 2.0, industry supported by computers in 3.0 and now the Internet of Things in Industry 4.0. These descriptors show how manufacturing and it's related sectors have evolved in the last few hundred years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
What does that have to do with water?
Water has taken a similar path across the ages, as we've figured out the best way to collect, clean and distribute water in the developed world. It started with Water 1.0 where we figured out how to import water and distribute it to the masses.
Then it moved on to Water 2.0 when we learned how to filter, chlorinate and clean our drinking water. Water 3.0 was when we figured out sewage treatment and used it as a widespread tool to better manage our wastewater system.
We've moved into Water 4.0, which will bring next-generation water systems as well as a new awareness that water is a finite resource. In fact, only 3% of the earth's water is fresh and drinkable — and 2/3 of that is frozen in polar ice caps.
Next-Generation Water Systems
Water 4.0 is going to change the water industry — especially where wastewater is concerned — in fundamental ways. Wastewater monitoring will likely become standard equipment in the next few years, allowing the water industry to keep track of water from the moment it leaves a residential home or commercial property until it reaches the wastewater treatment plant.
Currently, rainfall does contribute to local water tables whenever there is a storm, but it's contributions are really untrackable. New technology — from radar tracking to advanced analytics programs — will allow water industry professionals to keep track of rainfall and its potential impact on water and sewer systems.
Instead of acting reactively to heavy rainfall that might flood an existing sewer system, industry experts will be able to use predictive analytics to monitor situations and ensure that things like rainfall can't negatively impact the system or the surrounding environment.
New technologies are also emerging for water filtration and treatment, especially for commercial properties. Not only do these filtration systems improve the quality of the water traveling into the business, but they can also be designed to reduce water use without damaging functionality or water pressure.
This is just the beginning of Water 4.0 as we know it. New technologies will continue to emerge and change the way we look at something as simple as the water that comes from our kitchen sink. How will Water 4.0 impact the water industry as a whole?
The Impact of Water 4.0
In addition to new technologies, Water 4.0 represents a fundamental shift in our collective thought process. We've stopped thinking about our water resources as infinite. Everyone, from consumers to business owners and everyone in between has started to realize that unless we start taking steps, we could run out of potable water.
Some cities, such as Cape Town, South Africa have already faced this reality. In 2018, after a year of severe drought, the coastal city nearly ran out of drinking water for its 433,000 citizens. They managed to avert this disaster, but to do so they found themselves restricted to using less than 50 liters of water a day. For comparison, the average shower can use up to 15 liters per minute. Imagine using up your entire household's ration of water for the day in less than 5 minutes.
Digitization of the water industry will require existing companies and workers to adapt to new technologies, something that may prove challenging and expensive, but will be necessary for the long run as the entire industry starts to shift toward this digital future.
Many countries are already moving in that direction. The German water industry, when recently polled, stated that more than 50% of the companies in the country have either started adopting digital systems or have a digital strategy in the works.
Water 4.0 could even include the trend toward solar-powered desalination that is beginning to take root in the developing world. These plants are essentially self-sustaining and can provide fresh water in coastal areas where it might be scarce. Even the simplest systems can provide 1.5 gallons of water every hour per square meter of solar panels.
One of the nicest things about Water 4.0 from an outsider's perspective is the fact that there is no official definition that details what we need to do to improve our water infrastructure — we're just making it up as we go and coming up with some amazing and out of the box solutions that will help ensure that we have safe, potable water available for everyone for decades to come.
The Future of the Water Industry
We're essentially sitting at the beginning of Water 4.0, so it's a little early to start making projections about what it might mean for the future of the water industry. That said, it's still an exciting time to be part of an industry that is growing faster than it ever has in the past. Water is one of the most important things on this planet and is necessary to sustain human life, so we should be doing everything we can to preserve our existing water supplies. Water 4.0 might just be the thing to help us do that.
Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer who regularly covers industrial and scientific topics. Megan also publishes easy to understand science articles on her blog, Schooled By Science, to encourage others to take an interest in these subjects. When she isn’t writing, Megan enjoys finding new shows and documentaries to binge watch.
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