It's our final OA Ambassador Spotlight Blog of 2023!
Our OA Ambassadors raise awareness in their local communities about global OA movements as well as related opportunities through IWA Publishing. They are representatives of both the International Water Association and IWA Publishing and our joint goals to empower the next generation of water leaders and to shape the future of the water sector. These blog posts highlight their specialty and research focus, as well as emphasising the importance of Open Access publishing.
Kator Jethro Ifyalem is a civil engineer and MSc student from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, committed to environmental sustainability. Connect with Kator on LinkedIn!
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing have played significant roles in transforming the water industry. These technologies are being used to optimise resource usage, operational budgets, and combat global water challenges.
AI can help predict sewer flow, which is critical for preventing the release of raw sewage into the environment. The model can learn to predict the next flow value by training an AI model using thousands of examples.
AI can also deliver significant operational expenditure savings by reducing energy costs, optimising chemical use for treatment, and enabling proactive asset maintenance. This can save 20-30% of operational expenditures.
In terms of emergency management, AI can predict emergency events and learn from them at an accelerated rate, such as watermain breaks. AI and machine learning can identify patterns in the data that suggest a potential break event is approaching and use these patterns to improve the accuracy of alerts over time.
Cloud computing is another technology that has significantly benefitted the water industry. It provides scalability and flexibility, and many organisations have chosen to rely on cloud computing, storage, and networking architectures. Certain cloud-based AI applications involve the integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP), or customer relationship management (CRM) systems used by utilities, which can enhance efficiency and minimize the need for manual intervention.
As the AI and ML solution ecosystems mature, the execution of AI functions will move closer to the edge devices. This action is motivated by the availability of more affordable edge hardware, the scarcity of dependable and cost-effective connectivity choices, the need for enhanced data security, the sensitivity of businesses to latency, and the importance of mission-critical applications.
However, there are some challenges that need to be considered. The complexity and costs associated with the integration of advanced digital technologies across the water sector may limit the feasibility of deploying AI in the short term. The water industry must also manage the upskilling, reskilling, and new skilling of its workforce to ensure that the sector is equipped with the human capital necessary to design, operate, and manage the AI systems.
The potential of AI and cloud computing to the water industry in Africa
For AI to be effective, there needs to be a well-established water systems infrastructure and supporting information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure. Where foundational infrastructure is lacking, the capacity of AI to address water system deficiencies is severely limited.
To scale up the use of AI in Africa's water industry, African countries should prioritise funding AI research and development, advancing AI education, and forging collaborations with global organisations and tech firms. This will establish a favourable environment for AI innovation, empower African countries to benefit from AI advancements, and support their sustainable development goals.
Moreover, significant progress is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for water, sanitation, and hygiene in Africa. This requires a dramatic acceleration of the current rate of progress. Meeting the SDG targets in Africa will necessitate a rise in the current pace of advancement for secure drinking water, sanitation, and fundamental hygiene services.
AI and cloud computing are driving significant innovation in the water industry. However, the successful implementation of these technologies requires overcoming several challenges, including infrastructure limitations, the need for workforce upskilling, and ensuring responsible deployment of AI.