Smart water management in Brazil


As global warming continues to negatively impact on the ecosystem, calls to practise sustainable measures to address climate change have intensified on a global scale, writes Nicholas Nhede

On the water industry, effects include scarcity of water and increases in arid conditions.

Regions including New South Wales (Australia), California (US) and Cape Town (South Africa) are suffering their worst droughts in recent years.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2018.  You have access to our digital magazine here. 

Eight German states have also recorded drought-related damages of up to €3 billion ($3.4 billion), according to The Washington Times. Water levels in dams have decreased significantly; so much so that Edersee Dam in Waldeck, Germany has revealed a village which has been buried by dam water for approximately 100 years.

However, it is not forces of nature, but human behavior and factors including aging water infrastructure and utility business models that are the leading causes of depletion of water resources, along with decreasing utility services. Utilities at a global scale are blaming decreases in levels of water reservoirs and increases in revenue losses on technical and non-technical water losses within the distribution network.

Water scarcity in Brazil

Speaking during the World Water Forum held in Brazil Q1 2018, Jorge Werneck, deputy head of research at Embrapa Cerrado said the South American country is losing 30% to 40% of treated water during the distribution process.

A study conducted by Trata Brazil Institute and Águas Guariroba, the concessionaire for water and sewerage in Campo Grande, found that around 38% of Brazil’s treated water is lost and is above the global average which is approximately 25%.

Micael Waldhelm, head of marketing at Brazilian based water management solutions firm I.Systems, says that Brazil has, since 2014, faced a water distribution shortage in its most populated states.

One of the main reasons for water losses in the distribution network is excessive pressure in the reticulation system causing leakages or even ruptures.

Brazil has a historic cultural challenge to overcome because it has plentiful potable water resources within easy uptake, but increases in indiscriminate water usage (domestic, industrial and in agriculture) is causing water shortages far more severe than they were 10-20 years ago.

Smart investments

Public authority and companies should disclose more frequently the environmental and economic benefits that good management practices and new technology adoption bring.

This would enable the public to understand how big water wastage in Brazil is and would result in support of higher investment in the smart city industry.

However, credit should be given to work already undertaken and for programmes in planning and those under implementation which aim to improve the country’s water industry. Since 2014, several actions have been taken by the government and companies to make more efficient use of water resources.

Despite inadequate funding, investments are being directed towards research and development of innovative technologies and solutions to maximise conservation of water resources and to protect utility revenues.

Consumer efficiency awareness

Currently, the Brazilian government is investing in water supply network expansion and replacing old pipelines with newer pipelines along with technological enhancements.

The private sector is also investing in network expansion and developing partnerships between start-ups and enterprises.

For instance, I.Systems developed a smart water management software platform, Leaf, (initially meant for industrial processes) and enhanced it for utility applications using funding provided by the São Paulo Research Foundation.

Launched in 2010, Leaf was developed as a solution for process control and optimisation, and research and development have been dedicated to ensuring the solution is applicable in water distribution networks.

The first application of Leaf in water distribution began in 2014, with the objective of reducing water losses by maintaining the systems’ pressure at optimal levels. Leaf was configured to control the setpoint of pressure reducing valves (PRVs), and a 2% reduction in water losses after Leaf started operating was observed.

To date 35 companies have adopted the technology and reduced water loss in distribution networks operated by Prolagos, a company providing water services to seven municipalities including Araruama, Armação dos Búzios, Arraial do Cabo, Cabo Frio, Iguaba Grande, São Pedro da Aldeia and Saquarema.

Commenting on the project with Prolagos, Igor Santiago, president of I.Systems, said Leaf took a week to ‘adjust’ itself to the average water supply values and automatically optimised pressure control resulting in a 5.7% average instream flow reduction without changes in supply.

The application brought a 15% reduction in nocturnal minimum flow numbers, also decreasing the supply loss ratio in the entire areas.

Leaf stabilised pressure at the critical point through multivariable control, which automatically resulted in a 20% work pressure reduction, decreasing leaks.

Smart water management and metering

An increasing number of Brazil’s largest water utilities have shifted their focus towards advanced and automated water meters to optimise their billing capabilities, ensuring they can manage distribution networks in real-time as well as provide consumers with smart meter data, which they can use to improve their efficiency.

Aguas de Matao is using Itron’s software-as-a-service smart water solution for real-time management and operation of its water distribution infrastructure to improve services to some 27,000 consumers in Matao city in Sao Paulo state.

The solution includes the provision and installation of smart water meters, remote acquisition and processing of consumer water usage data and a wide range of network operations such as analytics to the installation of sensors to detect meter blockages and backflows.

Looking at Brazil, the country has one of the most promising economies whose ability to boost investor confidence is very high.

Collaboration between the government, water stakeholders and the private sector in developing frameworks encouraging sustainable practices within the water industry has the potential to expand the country’s smart water infrastructure capital base.

Importing best practices from other regions and countries and integrating them in local business cases would also help Brazil to address its water challenges. SEI