A Danish startup wants to use algorithms and the power of the nudge to help change the way water is consumed around the world.
Drought is set to become more and more of a common occurence, with two thirds of the world estimated to be living "under water-stressed conditions" by 2025, if demand and supply continue to develop in the same way they have until now.
Following reduced rainfall and a three-year drought, the first major city in the world set to officially run out of water is Cape Town. Day Zero (the day the city is to be forced to shut off most of the municipal water supply because water levels in reservoirs are too low) was originally set for the 12th of April 2018. Since these predictions were made back in January, residents have been recommended to keep personal water usage incredibly low, just 50 litres a day (for reference, the average person in the UK uses around 150 litres a day).
And while consumers are of course not the only people who shoulder the responsibility of the water crisis, and forcing people to live on the bare minimum is unfair in so many ways, it actually looks like changing consumer habits could hold the key. Water consumption has fallen so dramatically in Cape Town that Day Zero has been pushed back to 2019 (not ideal, of course, but better than nothing).
What if water consumers - the general public, aka you and me, could get some encouragement of a more gentle kind? Would that help decrease consumption and stave off drought (at least for a while)?
Where Do You Really Use the Most Water?
Aqubiq is a cleantech start-up that has developed a visual smart water sensor - called DripView - to help encourage change in consumer behaviour. Water use sensors are nothing new - whenever you get your water bill you're told how much water you have used - but do you understand what all those numbers and data actually mean?
Thanks to its internal software, DripView is able to not just measure water usage, but also categorise it, displaying it in clear, visual diagrams. The hope is that the power of the "nudge", subtle interventions that encourage behaviour change rather than enforce it, could help make consumers more eco-friendly.
Dripview comprises a simple sensor device which mounts on top your existing water meter, some advanced algorithms which analyse the data to categorise consumption and monitor for leaks, and a user-friendly app for both iOS and Android which gives you a full overview of the water consumption in your home, at any time and from anywhere. Not only will it tell you how much water you use, but how much you use when showering, turning on the dishwasher or flushing the toilet. This makes the whole topic of water usage more understandable and give users something concrete to respond to. Protected data storage and secured connections guarantees your personal information is safe.
And Aqubiq has also pledged to donate 15 per cent of their profits to charity organisations that are working with sustainable water programs - so you can "save water to give water".
The startup is supported by a range of Danish and European funds, including Innovation Fund Denmark and Climate-KIC and the meter is currently in the trial phase.
What Are the Alternatives?
In the case of Cape Town, possible alternatives to help avert the water crisis entail big infrastructure projects: firstly, drilling into aquifers (which some ecologists see as controversial because it would lead to the extinction of rare plants) or the construction of desalination plants (which some dismiss as too energy-intensive and/or expensive right now, although much more affordable alternatives are in development).
While both of these options would help to overcome the immediate crisis, they continue to encourage dependence on water supplies - something which will become more and more unrealiable, as climate change continues to make droughts an ever more common occurence. Maybe the only long-term approach to dealing with the effects of climate change is really a shift in consumer habits. Melbourne is another city which suffered a long and devastating "Millennium Drought" that lasted from 1997 to 2010. Using a mixture of restrictions and nudge tactics, the city managed to cut water consumption by almost 50 per cent. And interestingly, as a investigation by Quartz reveals, after the crisis was officially over, usage levels stayed low.
Maybe Aqubiq's DripView meter isn't a solution which is instantly applicable to Cape Town, but in the future it certainly could have a role to play when it comes to water conservation. As the example of Melbourne shows, when nudged in the right direction, communities can come together to do the right thing, change their habits for ever and work towards a solution, (at least a way to the affects of climate change, if not the causes) - they just need to be shown the way how.