Building Trust: South Korea implements smart technologies to address water supply issues

South Korea implements smart technologies to address water supply issues

South Korea has emerged as a leader not only in electronics, but also smart water management. Through a combination of smart water meters and information and communication technology (ICT), the country has built trust in public water supply. Since its incorporation in 1967, the Korea Water Resources Corporation (K-water), the erstwhile Industrial Sites and Water Resources Development Corporation, has played a key role in the country’s economic growth, and has contributed to the welfare of citizens and enhanced the quality of life by comprehensively developing and managing water resources.

Technology initiatives by K-water

K-water is operating an integrated water management system for reliable water supply. It functions as a complete solution for all kinds of water supply, ranging from source water to tap water. The corporation has also been implementing healthy water supply projects to build a sustainable, efficient water cycle system. These projects will provide customised industrial water supply and operate a sound wastewater treatment system for the protection of source water. K-water has developed and built ICT-based water operation systems to acquire, monitor and control all relevant data on a real-time basis. The data acquired from various water supply systems is analysed in terms of water quantity, water quality and energy management with the help of intelligent water network software that enables K-water to supply drinking water without service interruption and formulate an optimal plan to rehabilitate the water supply infrastructure.

Key case studies

In a report by the International Water Resources Association, the organisation listed 10 examples of smart water management (SWM) and South Korea featured in three of them. As part of the SWM approach, K-water is pursuing five major objectives: intake source water management, water treatment system optimisation, intelligent distribution network management, customised industrial water supply and wastewater treatment operating efficiency. Some of its successful SWM projects are as follows.

Paju turning into a smart water city

Despite the nearly universal availability of high quality drinking water in Korea, the direct tap water drinking rate in the country is only around 5 per cent. The main reason why Koreans do not drink tap water directly is their distrust due to concerns about ageing water pipes, and the alleged smell and taste of tap water. As a result, K-water introduced the smart water city (SWC) concept with the goal to increase the consumption of tap water. In a SWC, ICT is integrated throughout the entire water supply process, from treatment to tap. People can check the real-time status of the tap water supply process and water quality. The Paju SWC project provides a complete solution for tap water operation and management including GIS and real-time measurement data, water supply, water quality crisis management and demand forecasting.

Included in this SWC project is water-NET, a system developed by K-water to monitor and analyse the entire process of tap water supply using real-time ICT. Developed by K-water, water-NET consists of two programmes: Dr.Pipe and Net. Operation. Dr.Pipe is a water pipe diagnostics programme, which uses performance evaluation and diagnostic software to promote technological realisation of the Preliminary Diagnosis Post Improvement policy, proposed to improve maintenance and management of the water pipe network. Net.Operation is a water network operation management programme, that comprises modules including real-time pipe network analysis, water quantity, water quality, crisis and energy management based on GIS and real-time data, water pressure, and real-time leakage monitoring and leakage estimation.

In the Paju Smart City, the consumption of tap water substantially increased from 1 per cent to 36.3 per cent in a three-year period. A combination of ICT technology and real-time sensors was collectively used with ground staff engagement. K-water reports that public trust in drinking water has also increased using the SWC concept.

Seosan’s success with smart metering

The Seosan city project involves the adoption of smart water meters. Smart metering enables a sustainable water supply by reducing water leakages and saving water and energy. When water supply is reduced or limited by drought or other challenges, new water resource development is needed for the reliable supply of water. Smart meters convert the measured flow data into electrical signals and transmits them on an hourly, daily and monthly basis. They perform precise flow measurements by sensing an impeller pump rotation eight times.

Seosan city was planning to adopt the system following drought measures in 2016 and a smart metering pilot project in the Goryeng region. The aim was to reduce water leakages and improve non-revenue water rates by using remote metering, smart meters and ICT. A new concept of leakage detection sensors was deployed, in which the sensor is inserted into the pipe using water as its medium. This type of sensor has the advantage of enabling high precision in a low flow velocity with a semiconductor sensor and it also reduces leakages with a detection and warning function. In addition to this, it enables remote meter reading with a built-in communication function. Following the technology installations, hourly water usage data is delivered wirelessly. The project results show a leakage reduction of 190,000 cubic metres of water per year. Financially, K-water estimates that this will help save $590,000 over a period of eight years. Customer satisfaction has also improved as complaints can be handled promptly using the hourly data.

Hydro intelligent toolkit

South Korea faces regular water-related disasters such as extreme flooding and droughts. To address this, the country has put in great effort to resolve temporal and regional variability through the construction of multipurpose dams and multiregional water supply systems. Following this, a scientific river operation system, which links the rivers in the connecting watersheds, was constructed by K-water. This included a Hydro Intelligent Toolkit (K-HIT) to provide an ICT-led integrated water management system. K-HIT has five functions: real-time hydrological data acquisition, precipitation forecasting, flood analysis, reservoir water supply and hydropower generation. By using K-HIT, K-water claims it can minimise flood damage by storing more water during the flood season and can prevent droughts by supplying stored water during the dry season. With the introduction of K-HIT, K-water was able to effectively deal with the floods that occurred in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Summing up

One of the reasons smart water has gained traction in South Korea is that ICT-based technologies are very strong. The Government of the Republic of Korea and K-water have championed SWM over the past decades by supporting and developing innovative solutions for current water challenges faced domestically and around the world. According to the government’s SWM roadmap, the focus is on mid- to long-term technology development and budgeting, and on short-term commercialisation that supports the activation of private investment. By 2030, the government plans to promote the management of a demonstration complex with the aim to build a nationwide SWM system and establish a base city for each of the seven major metropolitan areas in the country. The technology initiatives taken by K-water are expected to encourage water utilities, industries and water users around the world to move forward in implementing SWM solutions in order to achieve great success in resolving the current water challenges.