In the world today, some 783m people, or 11pc of the world’s population, do not have access to clean drinking water, while every 20 seconds a child dies from a disease related to drinking dirty water. It is against this backdrop that Intel Ireland hosted a one-day summit at the Science Gallery in Dublin today to hear from global experts on the future of water, as well as the technological opportunities.
Leonard Hobbs, who is in charge of new business and research at Intel Ireland, was the main organiser of today’s event. He said that one of the aims of the summit was to inform Intel’s research direction and strategy.
"At Intel Ireland we are always looking to expand our mandate beyond manufacturing," explained Hobbs. "We see water as a potential opportunity to make an impact or contribute to Intel and indeed to the world."
In his remit for business development at Intel, Hobbs said it’s about looking at water challenges and the potential business opportunities for the company in the future to deploy IT solutions.
Moore’s Law and water
Lorie Wigle is the general manager of Intel’s Eco-Technology office, which is chartered to optimise the environmental impact of Intel’s products. Having travelled from Portland, Oregon, for today’s summit in Dublin, the theme of Wigle’s talk was how to apply Moore’s Law for water. At Intel, Moore’s Law is the guiding principle whereby every 24 months the number of transistors on a chip doubles.
In the context of water consumption, Wigle started off with some startling figures. By 2030, for instance, she said that nearly half of the world will be facing water scarcity.
At present 11pc of the world’s population lives without clean drinking water, while more than half of the word’s population depend on sharing water resources. Wigle cited UN figures about how a child dies every 20 seconds as a result of poor sanitation.
"How can you apply Moore’s Law to the water industry," she asked.
It’s about ‘three M’s’: Monitor, model and manage, according to Wigle. In terms of monitoring, this is about getting a better sense of data, while modelling is about taking data to create new business models. Finally, manage is about the application of technology.
"We need more data and we need to do more modelling so we can understand what is going on with the water cycle," explained Wigle.
It’s also about factoring in the type of business models and economic changes that need to happen.
Pointing to water meters, Wigle said that once people have better information about their water usage it will affect their behaviour.
In terms of creating smart water grids, Wigle said that in a lot of cases this is still very much in the future. She spoke about the scope to detect leaks in water pipes in real-time and to achieve better water diagnostics, such as detecting nutrients and contaminants that are in water.
Climatologist Prof John Sweeney from NUI Maynooth was next on stage.
"Water has been identified as the emerging critical environmental issue of the 21st century," he explained.
According to Sweeney, we are going to see water become a critical geo-political concern, alluding to Wigle’s earlier comments about shared water resources.
"We have an interchange of water between countries," he said. "Like oil, nations will squabble over it."
In Ireland, for instance, Sweeney said that a typical Irish person’s water footprint is 3,600 litres per day, with 72pc of the Irish water footprint resting in imported products.
"We have a mismatch between where the people are and where water is," he said.
In relation to climate change, Sweeney said that the water cycle is being affected by what is going on in the atmosphere.
"Demand for fresh water is going up, along with the changing distribution of the world’s population."
Within the next two decades he said that reserves of fresh water for drinking and irrigation will fall by 38pc.
"Water becomes a constraint on development when use exceeds 20pc of what is available," explained Sweeney.
Looking to the future of water resources, Sweeney spoke about the importance of climate modelling.
"We have to try build computer models that will give us scenarios for the future. We have a need for the fastest technologies," he added.
Water sensing technologies
Prof Dermot Diamond is a principal investigator at CLARITY, the Centre for Sensor Web Technologies, a partnership between UCD, DCU and Tyndall National Institute. He is also principal investigator at the Adaptive Sensors Group at DCU.
The theme of Diamond’s talk today was water sensing technologies and the opportunity to create new industries around water in Ireland.
"We should be investing in the next generation of water metering technologies," explained Diamond.
Referring to the new water metering programme in Ireland, he said it is not just about taxing people.
"It’s about developing the next generation of service industries around smart metering."
With regard to internet-scale sensing, he said that every measurement around water needs to be internet-enabled, with the ability to store data in the cloud.
"There’s a great opportunity to link fundamental materials science with solving practical needs," added Diamond.
Water image via Shutterstock