AWS Public Sector Blog

Islands innovating to future-proof water resources

This is a guest post by Louisa Barker, research manager in the European Government Insights team at IDC, and Joe Dignan, the European head of government insights at IDC.

At World Water Day and the UN 2023 Water Conference, water was described as our world’s lifeblood. Research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that approximately half of the world’s population experiences severe water scarcity for at least one month a year, intensified by climate change. This topic is top of mind for many in Europe following the record droughts, high temperatures, and floods that swept through the continent last summer and with increasing calls for EU member states to modernize aging water infrastructure and reduce pollution.

Islands can be testbeds for sustainable innovation that can help address these needs. Naxos, for example, recently launched a Smart Island Innovation Hub leveraging cloud technologies and internet of things (IoT) networks to introduce smart solutions from microclimatic stations to energy efficiency solutions. In this blog post, learn the role that digital technologies can play in supporting a clean and steady supply of water and highlight islands demonstrating the art of the possible.

Many islands are particularly vulnerable to water-related challenges due to a depletion of groundwater resources, rising sea levels, climatic hazards, unsustainable tourism, and water-intensive industries such as agriculture. Like mainland communities, they have a need for more efficient and circular use of water resources and are looking to strengthen their water management operations in a holistic way, from increasing water supply through solar-powered desalination, to improving efficiency through automated leakage detection.

Figure 1. Essential water operations on islands, including risk management, water treatment and recycling, pressure control and leakage detection, metering and consumption management, water quality and quality monitoring, and asset management. Source: IDC, 2023.

Figure 1. Essential water operations on islands, including risk management, water treatment and recycling, pressure control and leakage detection, metering and consumption management, water quality and quality monitoring, and asset management. Source: IDC, 2023.

Changing water consumption behavior and recycling grey water are both linked and essential, as the economy and future of many islands are tied to both tourism and agriculture. Tourism is a resource-intensive sector and a mainstay for many island economies, and is notoriously seasonal, demanding elastic, scalable solutions. For example, in the Balearic Islands tourism accounts for more than 44.2% of the regional GDP and nearly a third of local jobs. Published figures vary considerably depending on the country and tourist facilities with a range of water consumption varying between 84 to 2,000 litres per tourist per day, which can rise to 3,423 litres per bedroom per day. While agriculture accounts for 70% of all freshwater globally, withdrawals compared to 20% for industry and 10% for municipal and domestic use. There is an opportunity to leverage smarter recycling of water between the two heaviest water users on the islands.

Islands are recognising that they can use technology to create the data they need to allow them to make more informed decisions on where to target investment. By doing so, they have a greater chance of achieving the outcomes required. Innovative islands are using data across the water life cycle, from drone imagery of flood-prone areas to in-soil water sensors, and synthesizing this data into information that can be visualised through dashboards and digital twins to allow more informed decision-making.

There is also a need to make sure this digital infrastructure is in itself energy and water efficient. For example, in Oregon, water used to cool data centers is being used for local crop irrigation. A network of sensors has been deployed with real-time monitoring and alert capabilities to make sure the quality of the water is consistently maintained before it is delivered to the crops.

The EU Horizon2020 project, HYDROUSA, has this resource circularity and digital innovation at its core. The project aims to revolutionize the water supply chain across the Mediterranean region by closing water loops to counteract annual water shortages in tourism hotspots, boost agricultural productivity through improved distribution and resilience of nutrient rich reclaimed water, and create jobs. The Greek islands of Lesvos, Mykonos, and Tinos are the demonstration sites for this project, implementing innovations like island-wide urban farming with wastewater and solar-powered devices mimicking mangrove’s water-purifying power. These innovations will be scaled to 25 water-stressed coastal areas from Cyprus to Chile. The project is combining ancient water management techniques, nature-based solutions, and digital technology. LoRaWan is being used to build a network of energy-efficient sensors across the islands to generate data on water quality, quantity, and consumption patterns. The project’s information and computing (ICT) infrastructure is based on open-source technologies to increase interoperability and scalability.

Digital twin technology is also increasingly being used in the water industry and is accelerating efficiency and maintenance while enabling relevant authorities to invest for the future through scenario planning. Digital twins can be leveraged across the water lifecycle, including for data integration, to provide a 360 degree real time view of operations monitoring, including predictive maintenance and future-proofing systems and services, as well as visualising current water behaviour for citizens and industries, and simulating how changes would affect water demand and supply.

For example, in the city of Bristol, on the west coast of England, Bristol Water implemented a cloud-based and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered digital twin technology across their estate to provide a joined-up view of their infrastructure and assets from source to customer use. Digital twins can be used to capture a jurisdiction’s entire water cycle. In the city of Porto, the water utility company’s digital twin captures data from the city’s water supply, wastewater, stormwater, and beaches to enable flood forecasting, water quality and supply management, and infrastructure resilience. This technology holds significant opportunities for islands.

Water management is an area ripe for innovation on islands and beyond. Now is an opportune moment for islands to take this opportunity, with funds available through the NextGenEU Recovery and Resilience Fund, including for water management and the circular economy.

But how can European Islands and other territories begin creating a smart and sustainable island strategy? Read more about how to build a smart island strategy in this IDC InfoBrief, sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS), which offers guidance and best practices for islands to chart a digital transformation journey. The brief describes six key activities for islands to consider to take advantage of this unique opportunity for innovative development.

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Louisa Barker

Louisa Barker

Louisa Barker is a research manager in the European IDC Government Insights team, leading research on smart, sustainable, and resilient cities and communities. She has international experience providing analysis, policy advice, and consultancy to the public sector on disaster risk management, urban building and planning regulation, and smart cities. Previous roles have included Urban Resilience Consultant at the World Bank, focused on projects in the Caribbean and East Africa, and as a researcher at technology and innovation accelerators such as the Future Cities Catapult and the University College London City Leadership Laboratory. She is also a specialist advisor to the International Building Quality Centre. Barker holds a bachelor's degree in Geography from Durham University and a master's in urban studies from University College London.

Joe Dignan

Joe Dignan

Joe Dignan is the European head of government insights and a recognized smart cities subject matter expert with over 30 years of international experience in the digital transformation arena. A professional hybrid, at home in both the public and private sector, he has a background in local and regional government, universities, technology vendors such as Microsoft and EDS, and technology accelerators such as the Future Cities Catapult. He has experience of being on the World Bank’s Smart City Expert Framework, a member of the Stakeholder Group for the European Commission’s Smart Cities and Communities Group, and the EU-China smart city expert group, and is a research fellow at Kings College London Centre for Urban Science and Progress.