SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB is exploring an islandwide roll-out of an automated meter reading system (AMS), Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli announced in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 6).
“As part of the Smart Nation push, we will also use technology to encourage behavioural change towards water conservation and enhance operational productivity,” he said in his ministry's Committee of Supply debate speech.
Water demand in Singapore is currently about 430 million imperial gallons a day (mgd) and is projected to double by 2060.
Mr Masagos said PUB has been conducting trials on AMR systems to replace current meters that have to be read manually.
In 2016, PUB piloted the AMR project to provide some 500 households in Punggol with “timely” information on water consumption.
The trial infrastructure comprises an AMR-enabled water meter that registers and transmits readings wirelessly to PUB, data analytics on water consumption patterns and a mobile app for residents.
“Through the mobile app, the residents are able to track their detailed water consumption,” PUB said in a release.
“They are also able to receive leak and high usage notifications. In addition, through the use of gamification and rewards, the residents are also incentivised to reduce their water consumption.”
The trial has produced “encouraging” results, PUB said. “These households were observed to achieve water savings of approximately 5 per cent from early leak detection and good water-saving habits.”
One family that participated in the trial last June saved about 8,000 litres of water after their app alerted them to a leak in their water closet, Mr Masagos said. “Through a mobile app, the Chan family can track and take steps to reduce their daily water usage,” he added.
Meanwhile, PUB will also mandate the sale, supply and installation of water fittings with at least a 2-tick rating under Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme in all new and existing premises undergoing renovation from April 2019.
“Non-water-efficient fittings and appliances for all new developments will eventually be phased out by 2019,” PUB said.
Beyond households, Mr Masagos said the non-domestic sector must play its part, adding that companies can tap on the Water Efficiency Fund and Industrial Water Solutions Demonstration Fund to support water-saving efforts.
“PUB is collaborating with industry to use the data collected through the Water Efficiency Management Plans (WEMP) to develop sectorial water efficiency benchmarks and best practices,” he said.
With data from the WEMP, which includes information on areas of water use and proposals to improve water efficiency, PUB has developed a Best Practice Guide for the Building sector, and will “progressively” develop water efficiency benchmarks for other sectors, it said.
In the bigger picture, Mr Masagos said Singapore needs to ensure a resilient water supply, as climate change brings about the threat of “both extremes of drought and flooding”.
The minister compared Singapore’s approach to Cape Town – “two cities with similar water stories which have taken very different paths”.
Cape Town, which subsidises water, has endured a three-year drought, pushing its water system to the brink, Mr Masagos said. The city’s reservoirs are less than a third full, and it is scrambling to build desalination plants, he said.
“Residents are bracing themselves for Day Zero, when their taps will be turned off and they are forced to queue for water rations,” the minister stated.
As for Singapore, the country’s water supply has been augmented with sources like NEWater and desalinated water, Mr Masagos said. “What Cape Town experienced is not a remote possibility for Singapore. We must not wait for a crisis to take action.”
PUB said NEWater and desalinated water – two of Singapore’s national taps – meet up to 65 per cent of the country’s water needs. Their capacity will be “progressively” expanded to meet up to 85 per cent of water needs by 2060, the water agency said.
Currently, Singapore has two desalination plants with a combined capacity of 100 mgd, with a plan to triple their capacity to meet up to 30 per cent of water needs by 2060.
To that end, a third desalination plant in Tuas is undergoing testing and commissioning, and will be opened in the middle of this year. Two more desalination plants in Marina East and Jurong Island are being developed and will be completed by 2020.
“Even with these investments, it does not mean that our water scarcity issue is resolved. It only allows us to stave off temporary water shortages,” Mr Masagos said. “These sources are also energy intensive and we do not want to be too energy-reliant in our drive to be weather-resilient.”
As such, PUB said it is looking into other forms of technology to extract freshwater from seawater.
Stressing the need to pay equal attention to water conservation, Mr Masagos said Singapore’s household water consumption fell from 148 litres in 2016 to 143 litres per person per day last year. “I hope that this trend can be sustained,” he added.
The minister concluded that “growing and right-pricing our water supply go hand-in-hand with managing water demand”.
“The sum of all that we do will prepare us for the future,” he said. “For now, there is no need for national water rationing exercises. If we can get our policies right, we will avoid Day Zero.”