Water Conscious

Singapore comes up with smart showers

Singapore has had a long struggle with accessing potable water. It has historically had a dearth of perennial and safe drinking water sources. Today, the majority of the country’s requirements are met by importing water from Malaysia, treating water in desalination plants, reclaiming wastewater and tapping local catchment areas. Although the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the civic agency responsible for water provision, is looking for new water supply sources, it has also realised the need to encourage judicious use of water among residents.

Over the years, PUB has deployed various measures to foster consumer consciousness regarding water wastage among its rising population. For instance, the civic agency has launched a Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme, which is essentially a grading system meant to reflect the water efficiency levels of products such as washroom fixtures and washing machines. Consumers can consciously opt to purchase products that use water more judiciously. In line with such initiatives aimed at reducing water consumption, PUB is increasingly adopting IT to mitigate the country’s water woes. One such IT-enabled measure that the agency is planning to deploy soon is the Smart Shower Programme.

The concept

In Singapore, showering accounts for almost 29 per cent of a family’s average monthly consumption of water. In a bid to reduce the extent of consumption, and move towards the national objective of attaining per capita water consumption of 140 litres, PUB is planning to launch this pilot programme.  The project revolves around the idea of nudging residents and inducing them to reduce their water consumption levels while taking showers. Under the pilot, PUB will install smart shower devices in about 10,000 households free of cost. These devices will be able to record and provide real-time information on the quantum of water consumed by users while showering. The board expects that providing real-time data to users will generate a behavioural response from them to reduce water consumption.

The concept stemmed from a joint study undertaken by the National University of Singapore and PUB between July 2015 and March 2016. The study analysed the behavioural response of users towards the data provided by smart devices installed in their shower heads. About 500 households in Singapore participated in the study.

The results indicated that households can be induced to save about 5 litres per capita per day (lpcd) of water when provided with real-time information of water consumption levels during showers. This is based on the assumption that per shower, the baseline consumption is about 20 lpcd and the water conservation goal is 15 lpcd. Therefore, users with above-average consumption levels are expected to save more water under the project.

Moreover, it was also found that lowering the levels of water consumption leads to monetary savings of about 3 per cent on monthly household water bills. In addition, the results highlight that if users are provided real-time performance feedbacks with respect to certain set benchmarks/ goals of water consumption, they can behave in an even more water-efficient manner.

Implementing the project

Building on the study’s findings, PUB now plans to implement the pilot project over the next few years, commencing from the first quarter of 2018. In April 2017, the civic agency called for requests for proposal (RfPs) to supply smart shower devices. The pilot project will be executed as a demonstration project to highlight the benefits of such devices and validate its effects on water conservation.

The RfPs will also help PUB to collaborate with the industry by coming up with innovative ideas to improve upon the existing smart shower devices. It is looking at all possible alternatives with which real-time information can be provided to users to generate the best possible outcomes.

In addition, the civic agency is hoping to leverage digital developments such as internet of things under the project. It is planning to enable data from smart shower devices to be downloaded on multiple gadgets such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. Therefore, through RfPs, PUB is seeking to enhance the compatibility of shower devices with other smart gadgets. If this feature is enabled, it will allow users to monitor their progress over time and move towards attaining water efficiency.

Existing devices

While PUB is planning to deploy smart IT solutions for water savings, similar devices aimed at reducing water consumption levels exist in the market. For instance, France-based HYDRAO produces a smart shower head device called “HYDRAO First”, which can replace conventional shower heads. Depending on the quantum of water consumption, the device lights up the water spray in different colours. Further, it can be connected to the HYDRAO Smart Shower mobile app. Users can access the application to customise their water consumption levels and set corresponding colours for it. The application also provides them with information on water utilisation for the past 1,000 showers. This enables them to evaluate their water consumption over time, and assess the effects of saving water in the form of monetary savings on water bills. Moreover, using the device can also lead to energy savings since lower water consumption would reduce water heating requirements. In addition, the device does not have any energy requirements of its own. It is fuelled by a mini-turbine that generates power from the shower’s water flow.

Conclusion

In the face of water scarcity, reducing wastage has become a paramount concern in Singapore. Therefore, PUB is trying to encourage residents to do the same. Instead of imposing measures such as rationing water supply, the civic agency is trying to encourage a behavioural change towards water consumption.

Going forward, such IT-enabled solutions can also be deployed in reducing water consumption during other activities such as car washing, cleaning, etc. However, this would require significant investment in technology and infrastructure from both private and public entities. Hence, the government will have to weigh the cost and benefits of deploying such a programme on a large scale.

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