A bridge over digitalised water: Smart Water brings Singapore and Netherlands together
Singapore is not alone in its Smart Water journey, and private companies from all over the world are offering solutions.
Water is a finite resource, and perhaps there is no maritime Southeast Asian country that knows this better than Singapore. According to PUB estimates, the country’s water demand is slated to nearly double by 2060, from the 430 million gallons per day in 2020. There are also the risks posed by climate change, from heavy rainfalls and intense heat to rising sea levels. Singapore’s water agreement with Malaysia is also set to expire in 2061. Whilst that is four decades away, it’s not too early to lay out critical infrastructure that will improve the water supply system. A crucial part of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 is sustainability, which includes improving water treatment methods and reducing water consumption per household to 130 litres per capita per day. There’s also the matter of Singapore’s ageing population and what this could mean for the labour market. With less able-bodied youths to do physically taxing jobs, the Lion City always has the option to rely on foreign labour, a venture that has become more expensive since the quarantine-imposed border restrictions. Alternatively, it could rely on technology and artificial intelligence. This is where digitalisation and Smart Water comes in. “Digitalisation gives us a huge opportunity to advance our mission in previously unimaginable ways. It is absolutely a gamechanger,” PUB CEO Ng Joo Hee once said in a 2020 white paper. Through digitalisation and Smart Water technology, water utilities can collect data that they could use to improve their distribution and risk management operations.
Fortunately, Singapore is not alone in its Smart Water journey, and private companies are offering solutions. The PUB has worked with a consortium of companies, both Singapore-based and abroad, to ensure that the technology used in its system is amongst the best the world has to offer.
Netherlands-based Optiqua is one of those companies that have worked with the PUB to develop its EventLab system. Through continuous monitoring of water that goes through the pipes that it has installed, it guards the drinking water supply in real-time. This would allow PUB to respond swiftly to changes in water before it reaches the consumer.
“We developed our EventLab system jointly with PUB. Over the years our engineers, hand in hand with PUB, validated the prototypes and turned these into a complete system that is now implemented in Singapore,” said Managing Director for Optiqua Jos-Willem Verhoef in an interview with Singapore Business Review.
The flow of innovation continued, with Singapore-based ZWEEC Analytics adding its technology to Optiqua’s EventLab to come up with a holistic method of water sampling. “We use Optiqua’s system alongside Aquatec because both of these work to monitor the quality of water. These two systems are able to find out if there are any contaminants,” said ZWEEC Deputy CEO for Technology and Operations Yeo Chai Meng in an interview with Singapore Business Review.
ZWEEC’s Aquatec and FishWay Watcher uses a deep learning algorithm to monitor the behaviour of a select number of fish species to detect abnormalities in the water, such as flow rate, temperature, contaminants, and the overall ecological condition. Like EventLab, it also sends back real-time information to users. “When the water is contaminated, the fish will show some distress behaviour. AI is able to define the normal and abnormal behaviour of the fish. Behaviour comes before death, this allows the PUB to have an early warning to know that, yes, something is up,” Yeo explained.
Working together has benefited the two companies immensely, bonded by a similar water story despite the miles that stretch between their home nations. Combining data from different sources, through artificial intelligence, may create valuable new response tools for drinking water companies.
For this reason, a group of Dutch, Belgium, and Singaporean companies have started the AQUA consortium. This is a collaboration between Dutch companies Optiqua, Demcon Advanced Mechatronics, and HAL24K; ZWEEC Analytics from Singapore, and De Water Groep from Belgium. These companies have teamed up to develop the next generation of water quality monitoring with “AI-based” algorithms that help to identify the root cause of water quality issues. This consortium received as part of an International Eureka AI project, support from Enterprise Singapore and the Dutch and Belgium governments.
Both Singapore and the Netherlands have a strong reputation in water management and developing state of the art drinking water technologies. Both of the nation’s water utilities have posed a proactive stance in making sure no drop of potable water is wasted. “Like Singapore, we have acquired a reputation of making excellent drinking water, perfectly suited for drinking from the tap, ” Verhoef said. The Netherlands has gained a reputation for water technology, due to it’s well functioning public distribution system. “From our conversations, I am able to learn from them about different and latest technologies. How can we come together to develop one system? That is the beauty of working with people from other countries and other backgrounds,” Yeo said, adding that he has high hopes in marrying the EventLab and AquaTec systems together.
ZWEEC is also working on implementing its AlgaPro system in Singapore. The plankton recognition and counting system monitor the water to prevent harmful algae blooms. But, having initially been installed in and developed for the Yangtze River, it needs data on Singapore algal species before it can be implemented locally. Monitoring water quality and preemptive maintenance are key in making sure Singaporeans have safe and high-quality drinking water in the future. “In the near future, the water treatment plans will be automated. In terms of technical, input, when to take the reservoir—all of these will be done by AI. Preemptive maintenance even before problems happen, we should be able to react to solving all these issues in a faster time,” Yeo said.
“We see a lot of potential in 24/7 real-time water quality monitoring and is a key pillar of Smart Water,” Verhoef said. “More and more, people are aware that supply of water is not only about quantity but also about water quality.”
With the close collaboration of companies from all over the world, learning from and bringing out the best from each other, Singapore comes closer to achieving its water goals.
The Netherlands Embassy is always ready to help connect the Netherlands and Singaporean businesses. Check out their website for more information and contact details.