THE EU DIGITAL TRANSITION FOR THE WATER SECTOR IN THE EU GREEN FUTURE CHALLENGES, PRESSURES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
THE NEW ICT4WATER ACTION PLAN
October 19, 2022, 9:00 – 13:00, Brussels, BluePoint
On October 19, members of the ICT4Water cluster, policy makers from various DGs, and other professionals gathered in a workshop to discuss the digital transition for the water sector and the cluster’s activities and plans for the next few years. The workshop was part of Water Projects Europe, one of a series of events organised by Water Europe. The hybrid workshop attracted about 50 people who attended physically and an online audience who participated remotely.
Andrea Rubini welcomed the participants on behalf of Water Europe and stressed the good relation between Water Europe and the ICT4Water cluster.
Shaping Europe’s digital future: Water policy challenges and developments for the water digital future
Joachim D’Eugenio (DG ENV) presented the status of the implementation actions of the Zero Pollution initiative from the past two years. He highlighted the implementation of the zero-pollution action plan which resulted of the Commission proposal for the adaptation of some legislative acts such as the revised Industrial Emissions directive (IED), revised and updated list of emerging pollutants as well as the EC proposal of the new urban wastewater treatment directive (UWWTD) (Post-meeting note: already published on 26 October 2022). He underlined the key new elements added to the directive, for example, requirement for the removal of micropollutants, energy efficiency, sludge management and recycling efficiency, storm water management, and integration of the water sector with other sectors in contributing to the achievement of climate neutrality.
The speaker mentioned that DG ENV are closely following the advancements of relevant projects related to digital solutions to achieve zero pollution ambition, implementing zero pollution ambition goals for Flagship no.7 which relates to Living Labs for green digital solutions and smart zero pollution. He mentioned the opportunity for the ICT4Water cluster to contribute to the recommendations, that are currently in its finalisation phase by the Zero Pollution Stakeholder platform joint working group on “Digital for Sustainability, including Zero Pollution”. This is a unique opportunity for ICT4Water cluster to join the efforts together with Water Europe to contribute to this activity. The recommendations are planned to be published early next year. Joachim also emphasised the importance of linking the water sector with other sectors (air, noise etc). In the light of recent geopolitical situation events, he stressed the importance to make Europe more resilient and independent with regard to (water) critical infrastructure and water security. Overall, all help, knowledge-sharing, and recommendations are appreciated.
Digital Transition in the water sector
Through a video message Dragan Savic (WE Digital Water VLT leader) presented his keynote speech called “Digital Transition in the water sector”. Key challenges for the world in general and for the water sector specifically are:
- Global water security: droughts, floods, landslides, desertification, pollution, epidemics & diseases, disputes & conflicts related to water as well.
- Urbanisation & climate change linked to water availability.
Dragan explained the multi-dimensional aspects of these challenges.
He highlighted the increasing impact of the ongoing digital transformation with the ability to measure, to use sensors and to monitor water. 90% of current data is generated in the past 2 years. The increasing use of AI and number of connected devices are part of the digitalisation of the water sector. There are many initiatives on European level that support this digital transition like the ICT4Water cluster, SWAN, and Water Europe. The examples of digital applications in the water sector are:
- Use of AI for leak detection, in system design, and for rainfall estimation,
- Use of AR for field support,
- Remote sensing: use of satellite and drone data,
- Robotics: use of robots for pipe inspections.
When zooming in on the use of AI and digital water, the following challenges have been identified:
- Curse of dimensionality: Need to reduce dimensionality to retain meaningful properties
- Data fusion and integration: multi-source and multi-resolution data,
- AI = Code + Data. Need to switch to a more data centric approach,
- Unbiased AI,
- Non-technological challenges: human-in-the-loop. Requires more training,
Dragan concluded that the digital transition has large potential for the water sector, but the transition is going slow and future challenges are not only technological.
Presentation of the ICT4Water Cluster and introduction to the new action plan.
Lydia S. Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia (KWR) introduced the ICT4Water cluster and presented the new actions for a short-term period (2022-2023). ICT4Water is a cluster of EU-funded projects on ICT and water and acts as a hub for sister projects.
The cluster was created in 2013 and at that time the emphasis was on “Smart” and “Operational”. Today the emphasis is on “Intelligent”, “Holistic”, “Across (themes, sectors)” and “Co-creation”. This is reflected in the broader aspects related to ICT for water like the Green Deal policies related to ICT resulting in cross sector synergies. New themes linked to the water sector have emerged like circular economy, resilience to climate change or citizen science, and European data spaces are being promoted actively.
Lydia presented the structure and role of the six thematic groups called Action Groups. Each Action Group works in specific thematic areas and is composed of volunteers from the cluster projects. The groups identify trends, needs and gaps, and collect input from the projects. Together with the EC and especially REA, the groups work on actions and publications that support policy makers.
So far, the cluster has contributed to the development of EU policies by, for example, publishing the Digital Water Action Plan and supported EC services by multiple clusters publications. The short-term plans and actions of the ICT4Water cluster for 2022-2023 include the following:
- The finalisation of the updated version of the Digital Water Action Plan.
- Activate new projects and persons for the Action Groups.
- Promote clustering of sister projects (e.g. DW2020).
- Promote and continue synergies with clusters from other domains (e.g. BRIDGE – energy cluster).
- Produce publications and policy as well as technology development recommendations, based on showcases from ICT4Water projects on specific topics.
- Disseminate and promote the results of the cluster to the EC.
THE WATER DIGITAL FUTURE
How the ICT4Water cluster will contribute to the twin green and transition
and what you should know about digital water Technology and Policy challenges and perspectives.
Presentations from the ICT4Water Action Groups
Each of the Action Groups shortly presented their focus areas, key results and plans for the coming year. During the workshop, the participants worked in groups on the challenges posed by the Action Group leaders after which the groups reported back on the results of their discussion. The outcome of the discussions will feed into the new Digital Water Action Plan of the cluster. Below a summary of the plans and activities for each of the Action Groups.
Action Group Enable Data Sharing (EDS): Aitor Corchero (EURECAT) and Roberto di Bernardo (Engineering Ingegneria Informatica SpA) explained that the focus of this group is on interoperability & data standardisation, sovereignty data and services, open and non-discriminatory data and federated /reference architecture. In the coming year the group will focus on the development and extension of smart data models an demonstrate the value of data sharing in the water sector. The questions posed to the participants were what are the main issues for standardisation and interoperability of digital water data in Europe and what are the challenges arising for the water sector by the European Data Spaces. The group underlined the importance of considering climate data and climate prediction models for use-cases.
In the breakout session the group discussed the question: What are the main issues for standardization and interoperability of digital water data in Europe? Below, a summary of the discussion:
- An agile standardization of data models is needed. We are working on an agile manifesto. Note that the FIWARE FOUNDATION has published an initial version of the manifesto.
- The water data sharing protocol by the Commission needs restructuring.
- FIWARE is a context broker, it can make the data interoperable. Now we need to control the data sharing. We need to make sure that the data is used only for the purpose that has been agreed on.
- Traceability methodology of the data. It’d be nice to be able to see the origin of the data as well and the way it evolved.
- One key aspect is GDPR once it comes about personal data management and sharing. It’s forbidden to publish disaggregated data. They need to be aggregated before they are published. Energy and Water utilities do not share data.
- Four different data models are already introduced: FIWARE, IDSA, GAIA-X and BDVA. They are already converging thanks to the already established Data Space Business Alliance. In October 2022, it was just launched the Data Spaces Support Centre, that will support the establishment of actual data spaces in EU in different domains.
Action Group Intelligent and Smart Systems (ISS): Demetris Eliades (KIOS Center of Excellence) and Franck le Gall (EGM) explained that the activities of this group focus on three areas: i) Reinforce better utilization and effective deployment of new technology enablers ii) Improve efficiency and circularity in digitalisation of water use and re-use, and iii) smartening of the water system. Short term action is to update the DSS marketplace and investigate further the definitions, boundary conditions, and experiences of applying digital twins in the water sector. The question addressed by the group was how we can proceed from Smart to Intelligent water systems through AI.
Action Group Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP): Eloisa Vargiu (CETAQUA) introduced the main topics for this AG:
- Integrating efforts in providing digital solutions to strengthen the security and resilience of European Water Critical Infrastructures.
- Address technologies for risk management against cyber, physical, natural and human threats.
- Explore and promote collaborative work within and across sectors.
- Promote learning to increase water utilities organisational preparedness under crisis situations.
The plans of the group for the coming year are to link water critical infrastructure data to relevant data-sharing initiatives at European level, to provide informed input to public consultations, and nurture collaboration with other clusters. Topics under discussion include the requirements and appetite for a repository of critical infrastructure solutions created by ICT4water projects and how to consolidate and strengthen links with relevant initiatives and other domains.
Eloisa announced that the AG has two white papers in the pipeline. One about raising awareness on cybersecurity in the water sector and a second publication providing policy recommendations on cybersecurity in the water sector.
Critical Water infrastructure protection issues arising from extreme climate events, natural hazards and cascading effects. In the breakout session the group discussed the questions of what are they (e.g. for waste water and for drinking water)? What do we need to do? The outcome of the discussion has been split in threats and solutions, as shown below.
- Human threats: This category includes both physical and cyber threats.
- Concerns about how the climatic change may impact the cyber-physical security of critical infrastructures.
- Inter-dependency of critical infrastructure, specifically the close connection of drinking water infrastructure with the energy sector, make it vulnerable in case of a failure in the energy sector, thus having a cascading, probably disastrous effect.
- Digitization of the water sector, which is necessary for battling the effects of climate change, also gives rise to some concerns about the cybersecurity.
- Faster degradation of critical infrastructure.
- Digital twin scenarios. The idea here is to create digital twins for CI and monitor the effects of climate change on them.
- A holistic approach in the design and construction of CI was proposed, including attention for topography, micro-climate of the chosen region, and how climate conditions are going to change in this region in the future.
- Employee awareness and training for coping with physical and cyber events.
- Decentralization of CI, where this is possible, is a key point for the resilience of critical water infrastructure. Single points of failure must be avoided for water infrastructures.
- Short- and long-term recovery plans for critical water infrastructure. Disaster management policies for all disaster scenarios.
- Intelligence and data sharing among water utilities in EU countries. Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) and intelligence for battling, predicting and overcoming climate induced disasters should be shared among water utilities in different countries.
Action Group: Actor Engagement and Co-creation (AEC): Mehdi Khoury (University of Exeter) presented the main three actions of the group, being:
- Promotion and development of digital techniques like serious gaming, AR, VR, for stakeholder engagement.
- Raise awareness and involve stakeholders in the design of digital solutions for the water sector.
- Involve citizens actively in data collection
Identified topics of relevance are citizen engagement and awareness through new means for the water sector, and citizen empowerment for water system monitoring and awareness.
Action Group Policies (POL): Albert Chen (University of Exeter) provided an overview of the Action Group which focusses on upgrading policies by considering the inclusion of real-time measurements, data sharing and privacy policies, and the promotion of the link with existing and future water legislation. Actions for the coming year focus on the upgrade of policies and the promotion of legislation to enhance data exchange and data sharing across sectors. Special challenges identified are the gaps in EU and national policies and legislation for the implementation of advanced digital technologies, needed policies and legislation for boosting digital data sharing and missing policies and legislation to strengthen quadruphelix engagement to support digital transition.
In the breakout session the group discussed three special challenges/topics, being:
- What are the gaps in EU and national policies and legislation for the implementation of advanced digital technologies from water utilities?
- What policies and legislation are needed to boost digital data sharing?
- What policies and legislation are needed to strengthen quadruplex engagement to support digital transition
Key outcomes of the discussion were:
- Digitalisation should be contemplated in respect of the principle of “technological subsidiarity”.
- Regarding the standardisation and interoperability of digital water data in Europe, ad hoc open data/shared portals should be created to support scientific/industrial databases.
- Water utilities are mostly based at national level: the EU should work on a regulatory harmonisation at national level though EU KPIs/standards to be implemented by EU water-related umbrella organisations.
- From a water utilities point of view, there might be a problem of data reliability that could be solved through a better definition of EU standardised KPIs.
- The EC is already working closely with MS and stakeholders to achieve better integration of the Water Framework Directive with other EU policies: the WFD should also be considered in relation to the renewed DWD, the EU Biodiversity Strategy, the Zero Pollution Action Plan, the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, the EU Green Deal.
- Regulatory compliance: incentives might work better than fines.
- To strengthen the helix university-industry-gov-public-environment interaction, citizen engagement should be incentivised through user-friendly apps for smartphones.
- To involve citizens in the promotion of digital techniques, design of digital solutions, and data collection:
- Building an Innovation Strategy for the water sector
- Bringing the Smart Cities into the Digitalisation Agenda
- Creating synergies with ICT4WATER
Action Group Business Models (BM): Eva Martinez (AQUALIA) gave an overview of the Action Group. The aim of the Action Group is to identify, master build knowledge on innovative data driven business models to create value within the water sector. This includes the identification of drivers, accelerators and barriers for digitalisation of the water sector, the identification of financing programs, next generation funds and EU taxonomy to accelerate digitalisation and spot trends and market needs and readiness for digital solutions. Business models go beyond data and focus on value creation. Actions for the coming period focus on monitoring the effectiveness of business models and market uptake of digital solutions, identification, monitoring and assessment of main drivers and barriers for market uptake and analysis of digitalisation plans and tenders in Europe. Challenges identified are how to accelerate at EU level the adoption of IT technologies by water utilities and how is the landscape of IT- and data-driven business models developing.
Some key outcomes on the discussion on “How we can accelerate at the EU level the adoption of IT technologies and the Digital transformation by the water utilities” are:
- It shoud be pushed by public administration that should include digitalization in the tenders for water infrastructure management. In order to do so the public administration (that contracts/control water utilities) should understand the value of digitalization.
- Socio-economic-environmental benefit/value of digitalization has to be quantified (and possibly monetized) for the understanding of public administration.
- Public-Private-Partnership for data and information sharing can increase the push by public administration à this could also increase the potential of co-financing.
Regarding the question “The new landscape for business models related to IT technologies and data for the water sector. What is changing at the European level?”, suggestions of the group were:
- The current landscape is dominated by energy and chemicals cost. Digitalization should focus on energy efficiency, while considering the Green Deal objectives.
- Social awareness on water issues is increasing, for both quality and quantity, but holistic value of water is nor quantified nor communicated.
- At EU level there is a need of digital infrastructure, high investment is foreseen, together with the need to to train the workforce of utilities on new skills.
Takes away and conclusions
Each of the Action Groups reported back on the key opinions, views, and suggestions of their group. The results of the breakout sessions will be used as input for the new Digital Water Action Plan which will be released shortly.
It was concluded that the digital transition offered many opportunities for the water sector but that this transition is not going fast enough. Actions are needed not only on the technological elements but especially on policy and socio-economic related topics. Synergies between the ICT4Water cluster and clusters from other domains and the tools and initiatives of the European Commission will speed up the digitalisation of the water sector.
Lydia closed the workshop and thanked all participants for their contributions and active participation.
The ICT4Water team
Photos credit: Water Europe