City smart water infrastructures, according to Galen Nelson, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) Interim Senior Director of Innovation and Industry Support, is all about the “water/energy nexus.” This confluence takes significant amounts of energy to move and process water as well as to generate electricity. Nelson’s remarks came as part of a conference series organized by the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, which provides industry leaders, researchers, students, and interested members of the public with information on emerging clean energy technologies and pathways for their broader adoption. They “share a passion for making a difference in the world through technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”
Cities face many pressing issues regarding their water infrastructure, according to the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge. The most critical water issues relate to improving the fundamental components of urban water systems. Most cities cannot identify the location of underground pipes, as they were laid so long ago cities do not know where they are. As a result, mapping them is quite difficult.
Then there’s the process of “instrumenting” the pipes, or adding digital markers to the pipes and the water within them so they can tracked, analyzed, and repaired as necessary. Estimates say that it may cost around $384 billion to upgrade the U.S. water infrastructure, with numbers likely to increase given the stressors from increasing population, climate change, and water pollution.
Optimizing energy and water use requires cities to devote large amounts of their budgets on the energy required to power systems and pumps. According to the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, some cities spend up to 30% of their energy costs just on providing water to the residents.
And, of course, with the aging infrastructures of most cities, it’s common to hear about water pipe breaks. Did you know that the U.S. water infrastructure breaks once each minute – about 540,000 times per year?
There is a possible remedy to this water pipe breakage dilemma and other problems associated with smart city water infrastructures: the Internet of Things (IoT). Devices generate enormous amounts of data, and innovators are trying to find ways to use data-generated methods to improve the water structure.
“These new technologies, these new data sources, are only important for how they impact human lives,” Nelson argues. A “low environmental footprint” is a challenge for cities as they attempt to upgrade their water infrastructures. “We’re seeing more distributed energy sources. There may be opportunities to go more smaller scale.”
MassCEC, which provided space for the event, receives funding from the Renewable Energy Trust Fund, which was created by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1997 as part of the deregulation of the electric utility market. The trust is funded by a systems benefit charge paid by electric ratepayers of investor-owned utilities in Massachusetts, as well as municipal electric departments that have opted to participate in the program.
The MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge believes that showcasing emerging technology can inspire innovation. Their events expose their audiences to what ideas just might become reality and how entrepreneurs can capitalize on them. Together, MassCEC and the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, with their commitments to advance global clean energy, are role model programs for energy infrastructure planning and implementation across the U.S.