The Spanish Network of Smart Cities (RECI) is currently made up of 93 member cities, 44 friendly municipalities and two other associated entities, Red.es and the Association of Telecommunications Engineers. All of them make up an ecosystem that contributes to promoting the automatic and efficient management of infrastructures and urban services, as well as the reduction of public spending and the improvement of the quality of services, with which to achieve the progress of cities.
Francisco Javier Ridruejo Pérez is the secretary of the RECI and is currently the general coordinator of Economic Promotion, Technological Modernisation and Professional Knowledge at Logroño City Council. Ridruejo talks about how the application of technology favours the improvement in the management of the integral urban water cycle and contributes to further progress in the objectives of sustainability, conservation of water resources and citizen welfare.
In addition, he explains how shared data spaces and digital twins can become relevant tools for asset management in cities and, in particular, in the water sector.
How do you assess Spain's potential to accelerate the digital transformation process in the water sector?
Spain is one of the most advanced countries in the world in the water infrastructure managementFor example, in irrigation, desalination, transfers between river basins, reservoirs and urban water management in municipalities that multiply their size several times over in the summer, without having capacity problems and correctly managing their entire life cycle: catchment, treatment, storage, distribution, sanitation and reclamation.
In addition, the significant variations that we are beginning to suffer as a result of climate change are leading the country, regions and cities to establish policies for the control and optimisation of this resource, and the modernisation of infrastructures with programmes such as the PERTE del Agua promoted by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge with PRTR funds.
Spain has exported its successful model of infrastructure management, including water management, to other countries and we have in the country major world operators in the sector with our own technology and extensive experience in the sector.
The Spanish Network of Smart Cities (RECI) is a driving force to accelerate this transformation process. Do you consider public-private partnerships to be a key factor for the successful implementation of water digitisation projects?
Of course, public-private collaboration is always desirable, as it is difficult for municipal technicians to keep up to date with all the technologies, tools or best practices existing in the private sector, which has very different rhythms in the development of its solutions. On the other hand, it is always interesting to know the trends and optimisation processes carried out by other administrations supported by companies specialised in the water sector.
We could say that data and information are the keys to success in improving decision-making. How does RECI view the ownership of this data and the transparency and interoperability of the tools used in this transformation process?
We are in the data economy. What we do not measure cannot be improved, so we first need to be able to collect the data, clean it, store it, interpret it and transform it into knowledge in order to make good decisions based on data and not on impressions. Furthermore, taking into account this type of infrastructure and the amount of data that can be generated in real time in a medium-sized municipality, it is important to have data exploitation platforms based on non-SQL technologies or big data distributions such as Cloudera, Graphenus and others that can help a lot in data processing.
On the other hand, it is increasingly necessary for this data to be interoperable with Smart Cities platforms, such as Fiware, Elliot Cloud, Onesait or Telefónica, as these platforms make it possible to correlate the data collected with other city verticals such as energy, environment or irrigation, which is so closely related to water, avoiding peaks in installed power, saving water and optimising the use of resources by municipalities.
The mission of cities is to provide services to their citizens as efficiently and transparently as possible?
In this sense, how does the Administration see the creation of data lakes or shared data spaces for the water sector and other sectors that affect the management of cities?
As long as they have a practical use and a measurable return on investment, they are welcome. The mission of cities is to provide services to their citizens as efficiently and transparently as possible.
Pilots can also be done that do not have to be cost-effective to install, but when these projects are implemented in cities on a large scale, ROI is an important parameter to consider. For example, it does not make sense to install a large network of smart meters with a state-of-the-art communications system to measure consumption in real time and the cost of operating the system is much higher than sending operators by car to check meter by meter.
We know that the technology is ready for the creation of these shared data spaces and that there are innovative solutions in the sector that offer advantages over traditional ones. Do you think that the public administration and its technicians are aware of these innovative solutions and the potential of shared data spaces?
Normally not. In other words, it is necessary to raise awareness among municipal technicians so that they are aware of the different possibilities and take decisions for their implementation, always taking into account the cost/benefit ratio.
As for the potential of data spaces, we are still beginning to see their benefits and there are no large-scale data spaces that are delivering the theoretical results, so it is still a work in progress. The main hurdle we have to overcome is to get companies to commit to putting their information in these data spaces and to obtain information from them for the creation of value-added products. The contribution of data from cities to these data spaces will not be a problem, but it will be a problem for all parties to perceive the added value of this type of infrastructure.
"There needs to be a smart city platform that allows the different services to aggregate, operate and interoperate with each other in a way that makes everything more efficient?
Digital twins are becoming increasingly popular, what are they and how are they used in integrated urban water management?
The digital twin is a virtual infrastructure that simulates a real infrastructure and its operation, so that it represents, on a computer platform, everything that is happening in a real infrastructure, for example, water, in all its stages: catchment, treatment, storage, distribution, sanitation and reclamation.
Vertical smart city platforms typically allow to see the status of infrastructures and monitor them, establish indicators and generate information for decision support. But a digital twin does not stop there. The most advanced ones allow the operation of the infrastructure, even aided by intelligent systems based on artificial intelligence or advanced neural networks; they make it possible to simulate operations before they are performed to see the behaviour of the system before doing them, thus avoiding costly mistakes and favouring semi-automatic monitoring and operation in an ideal state.
So, could we say that digital twins will change the future of water management?
Digital twins will certainly change the way we operate our infrastructures, allow us to simulate unforeseen situations, and introduce artificial intelligence into municipalities, lightening the management of large infrastructures.
And finally, in relation to smart city management, is RECI in favour of integrating different verticals such as urban water cycle management and shared data spaces into horizontal smart city platforms?
Yes, from the Spanish Network of Smart Cities (RECI) we promote the use of technology in the management of municipalities, and given the atomisation of the introduction of technology in the different municipal departments, it is necessary that there is a smart city platform that allows the different services to be aggregated, that allows them to operate. Furthermore, they should interoperate with each other and synergies should be established, so that everything becomes more efficient and simpler in terms of the horizontal management of the city.