Novel smart water grid proposal funded in Australia

Novel smart water grid proposal funded in Australia
Image: Melbourne Water

A University of Melbourne smart water grid project has been awarded Au$3.5 million (US$2.4 million) in funding from the Australian Research Council.

The project ‘Making optimal use of stormwater in cities: a market-driven smart grid’, is aimed to address the twin challenges of flooding and drought that are prevalent in the urban water industry.

In particular, the proposal is to examine how the use of a smart grid network could enable consumers to reduce their water demand by harnessing urban stormwater by incentivising the release of water to drought-affected streams and mitigating the flood-risk by drawing down water storages prior to large storms.

“We believe we can do for the urban water grid what solar panels have done for the electricity grid,” says Professor Tim Fletcher from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Science, who will lead the project.

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“We can create a network of connected rainwater tanks that actually pay their owners for contributions they make to reducing floods, supplying water to streams in drought and reducing their own demand for drinking water.”

Water is critical to cities but urban stormwater, such as runoff from roofs and roads, is usually wasted, even though much – up to half in Australia – is generated from private land.

Harnessing this stormwater could supply more than 80% of the urban water that is currently used for non-potable purposes.

The project, which will be undertaken with Melbourne Water Corporation, envisages developing a control platform that can optimise in real-time the use of a smart grid of networked stormwater storage on private land.

This network would enable consumers to reduce water demand by supplying their own non-potable water, but also financially reward them for water releases to streams requiring greater water flows while reducing the flood risk by automatically drawing down storages prior to large storms.

The platform will be commercialised through IP sharing arrangements with private companies, with Melbourne Water facilitating translation through its established partnerships with technology providers, retail water authorities, local government and policymakers.

In addition to the ARC funding, the project also receives Au$1.3 million in university funding as well as support from Melbourne Water.