Oct 14, 2019

The Unifying Power of a Smart Water System

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 edition of Water & Wastes Digest as "Smarter & Cleaner Cities for Tomorrow."

Global approaches to smart, sustainable & clean cities

The water and wastewater industries face unprecedented challenges, with high global demand for clean, safe and reliable water and rising populations and urbanization. 

Globally, 80% of wastewater is discharged without being treated or reused. Water leakage and losses can equal as much as 30% in developed countries, an amount rising to as much as 70% in some developing countries.

To be successful in creating a smart city, the approach must have a unifying vision. It is best not to digitalize smart cities separately as this achieves limited results. Instead, a coordinated smart city vision with a common strategy and clear objectives will achieve the best outcome for residents, businesses and service providers. 


A smart city can provide a better quality of life for all, reducing operational expenditure and lowering its carbon footprint. It can bring sustainable economic growth, with the integration of utilities, including power, water, wastewater, heating and cooling, as well as e-mobility infrastructure for vehicles, automation for factories and buildings, and networks for ultra-high-speed broadband.

As part of this approach, a smart water system should be designed to gather meaningful and actionable data about the flow, pressure, distribution and quality of a city’s water, as well as provide precise data about the consumption of water for accurate forecasting.

Water, and access to clean water, is one of the biggest challenges facing the world. Although there is not one single cause—climate change and lack of rational water-use policies both contribute—there are solutions to provide clean water for the growing global population, starting with collecting rooftop water, fixing leaks and making smarter use of wastewater. Digital technology, through monitoring and the use of sensors and automation, is integral to how water can be used for smart cities. 

Supporting Water Sustainability Strategies With Technology

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, needed to address high water leakage rates and support long-term growth of the urban population and, subsequently, of the distribution network.

With an aging water distribution infrastructure that had deteriorated over time, water losses were high. The city was losing nearly 30%—more than 150 million cu meters—of clean water each year through leaking and damaged pipes at a rate considerably higher than many developed cities. The growing city also increased pressure on existing infrastructure. In the midst of this growth, the city set a target to reduce water leakage from 30% to 10% by 2020, to be achieved by using an automation system tailored for the power and water industries. 

Local water utility Saigon Water Corp. (SAWACO) undertook a major renovation of the city’s water distribution network. Working with ABB, Ho Chi Minh City is making the transition with digital technology. The renovation includes expansion of the current network capacity, integration of more isolated sections, reduction of water leakage and real-time control and monitoring of the network conditions to prevent major disruptions as part of the project scope. Its modernized water management system will not only help meet rising demand for water but also will help detect leaks and monitor and control the networks in real time.

This automation system adds value by collecting, analyzing and providing actionable insights on plant and engineering data in systems, ultimately lowering project risks, reducing cost and throughput times and improving asset performance and profitability.

With multiple data collection points, such as sensors and meters, the automation system also offers actionable insights to reduce non-revenue water, enabling SAWACO to better serve the city’s industries and eight million residents. At a first estimate, SAWACO will save 50 million cu meters of water per year—equivalent to 20,000 Olympic-size swimming pools—while production cost savings could be greater than $10 million annually.

Advanced automation impacts daily life. The smart collection of digital data from the field offers real-time insights with the opportunity of increasing the quantity and quality of drinking water and improving living conditions for millions of people.

The smart cities solution in Västerås, Sweden, involved integrating control rooms from multiple automation systems to manage the city’s vast network of operations across multiple utility services.
The smart cities solution in Västerås, Sweden, involved integrating control rooms from multiple automation systems to manage the city’s vast network of operations across multiple utility services. 

Becoming Water Smart

As cities grow, they must boost their economies to sustain booming populations. There is a need to expand and renew critical infrastructure—including water and wastewater, as well as energy, heating or cooling and transportation—and at the same time, reduce use of natural resources and lower emissions. Cities also must deliver essential public services.

To compete domestically and internationally for investment and talent, cities are setting goals to improve their sustainability, quality of life and economic growth. One key way to achieve these goals is to become smart and digitalized, especially in the use of energy, water and essential services.

A smart city integrates its utilities and services into a unified system to improve efficiency, reduce operating costs and lower its carbon footprint. By ABB’s definition, a smart city has several components, including smart water. As a city’s population rises, it is inevitable that water consumption by businesses and residents will grow, as well. By interconnecting utilities and services like electricity, water and district heating, cities can unleash new powers of optimization to reduce operating costs, energy use and pollution.


Integration for Efficiency & Environmental Benefits 

Digitalization of each city system separately—without a unifying vision—achieves limited results. Impact is achieved when there is a coordinated vision, with a common strategy and with clear goals based on the input of multiple stakeholders, including residents, businesses and service providers.

In the city of Västerås, Sweden, ABB is developing smart city solutions with multi-utility Mälarenergi to optimize the city’s water, wastewater, power and district heating networks; reduce energy use and non-revenue water; and create new consumer apps and services to enhance the wellbeing of the city’s 150,000 residents and the success of its businesses.

In collaborating with Swedish energy company Mälarenergi while using its technology, experience and operational expertise, ABB has developed solutions to minimize the impact on the environment. This was done by integrating the control rooms of the many automation systems that manage the expansive operations to create one unified operating environment. This helped the city of Västerås become more sustainable, resilient and efficient. 

Mälarenergi provides a range of essential services. Integration is bringing both efficiency and environmental benefits that release financial resources for investment in areas that will truly benefit the customer. The refocuses the utlities goals on the end-user experience.

Utilities may be thought of as a traditional industry, but in Västerås the utility is being transformed. For example, the district heating network serves 98% of the city’s buildings. The aim is to optimize operational performance and reduce energy consumption. Data analytics will make it easier for operators to identify, categorize and prioritize potential issues with assets, processes and risk areas, so the utilty can increase efficiency and reduce costs. This empowers cities to become smarter by generating new insights and enabling better decision-making.

The digital transformation of Västerås creates tangible benefits for residents and businesses operating at high levels of efficiency, sustainability and resilience.

Closing the Loop

By interconnecting utilities and services like electricity, water and district heating, cities can unleash new powers of optimization that reduce operating costs, energy use
and pollution.

For example, ABB has developed solutions to coordinate the operations for municipal water and wastewater, district heating and cooling, and power systems, which enables them to operate as a unified system within a closed loop system.

In a 24/7 water treatment plant, for instance, the pumps do not need to run all the time. Using algorithms to adjust network pressure and temperature, control pumps optimally and forecast heat and power requirements makes better economic sense to operate them when electricity prices
are low. 

Unified Energy & Water Management in Germany

Trier, Germany, provides another instance of how the coordination of utilities and services—in line with the city’s vision, strategy and targets—creates value for the whole city and its inhabitants.

Stadtwerke Trier supplies electricity, gas, drinking water and district heating, while also treating wastewater. It also is responsible for the public transportation system, in what is one of the country’s most progressive smart cities.

A smart energy management system for the city’s diverse range of generation sources includes wind power, hydropower and solar photovoltaic (PV), and has already been developed with ABB. The solution optimizes production, balances it with consumption and has connectivity to weather and load forecasting tools. 

In a new project (Interreg VA Energiewaben GR), ABB is working with Trier to connect the city to three others in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. This interconnectivity will enable them to compensate for fluctuations in renewable energy together by exchanging power with each other and using storage capacity intelligently. This will maximize their use of renewables and minimize dependency on the national grids.

In addition, ABB is working with Trier to connect the wastewater plant, the water network, on-site PV generation and the combined heat and power plant in a separate power pool to reduce operating costs. 

Global Solutions With the End User in Mind

Digital technology is enabling water companies to manage their assets more efficiently and sustainably, and with the integration of plants and networks, this can create a smart city solution that has the end user in mind. 



About the author

Marco Achilea is head of ABB’s Water Business. Achilea can be reached at [email protected].