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Data / Edge Computing / Open Source

Gothenburg, Sweden Used Open Source IoT to Drastically Cut Water Waste

The project is part of a city leadership mandate to digitize as much as possible by 2025 and to use open systems for its infrastructure.
May 23rd, 2023 6:58am by
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With around 500,000 residents in town, and over a million in its metropolitan area, Gothenburg, Sweden has plenty of people and ground to support. Like any city, there are services that need to be offered, and systems that need to be maintained over time. And it’s always easier to instrument things and monitor them from somewhere else than it is to drive out and check on pipes, lamps and streetlights in person.

So the basic appeal of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the city level is to save time and gain efficiency by eliminating travel time and labor. That’s certainly what appealed to Hans Wendt, the project manager for the Gothenburg City Information Platform and IoT project. Wendt likes saving resources, and the city’s IoT project even extends to saving water: If it rains, sensors tell city sprinkler systems to pause watering activities for some time period.

But building out this system of sensors across multiple aspects of the city’s services wasn’t easy.

“The market is building different siloed solutions for each company, making it expensive to manage. By building a common solution to manage the issue, [we] make it much easier,” he said.

To build a solution to handle multiple IoT devices, platforms and problems, Gothenburg chose to build on top of Red Hat OpenShift. But first, it needed to build a proof of concept. And for that, it needed something to monitor and measure with sensors.

Wendt and Frederik Lehtonen, product owner for OpenShift at Gothenburg, chose bath water. After a proof of concept measuring bath water temperature coming out of people’s homes, they looked at other watering projects. And as a result, they’ve already cut water usage for managing 50,000 trees by 75%. They did this by connecting newly planted trees to sensors to monitor moisture levels and adjust watering.

Why Water?

The project started two years ago with the goal of building a platform for all of the city of Gothenburg IT. The team wanted to provide a simple way for the city’s IT teams to build projects more efficiently. While the goal was clear, the implementation quickly forced the city’s workers to collaborate across departments.

That meant IT collaborating with the City Parks Department. The first test was run inside the city’s public green areas and sports centers. As part of the innovation project “Sustainable Smart Parks,” the project has expanded and come to include multiple city departments, a university and a national agency.

Using temperature and humidity sensors combined with satellite-gathered information, the city can manage its park watering system automatically. Using water meters, the city can detect leaks remotely, which is a big deal because 25% of the water produced for Sweden is lost to leakage each year.

Until now, meter readers had to physically check a card on the pipe itself to measure outflows. Now the city can measure it automatically every hour via IoT sensors. This eliminates not only the physical work and delay associated with meter reading, but also eliminates human error from the process, Wendt said.

Open by Default

The project is operating under a city leadership mandate to digitize as much as possible by 2025 and to use open systems for its infrastructure. This is one of the reasons the city chose Red Hat OpenShift, but it’s also behind another decision. The team decided to cut through the IoT noise by building their platform with FIWARE.

FIWARE is a curated framework of open source software platform components. At the center is the FIWARE Context Broker, which brings management to contextual data around information streams. Specifically, this enables things like IoT data streams, monetization of those streams and processing of the data.

Building on top of those two open systems enables Wendt and his team to comply with the security and data retention needs that come with running civic infrastructure. And that’s an important building block for a city that has three new IoT projects in the works and over 50 in the planning stages. That platform will soon be handling far more water data and will also take up streetlight management.

Under the city mandate, Wendt and his team are also working with IT to enable a data lake model for the information pouring in from sensors. They are embracing the self-service data model and hope to provide a high-quality data analysis platform to city workers.

Behind all these plans is a central desire to help all of Sweden, not just Gothenburg, Wendt said. Open source enables sharing.

Using what others have made and creating possibilities for working together in the future allows money being spent on this work to be saved elsewhere if other municipalities can also use these platforms. Plus, there’s the inherent cost savings of open source itself, said Wendt. “Fiware was a cheaper solution and easy to test and use also. [That was also] a benefit.”

For the future, Wendt sees some hurdles that still require clearing in the marketplace. He said that scale is the biggest challenge for the future, and more specifically, the challenge of asset management as sensors blossom from hundreds to hundred thousands in the field. Managing that many devices presents a challenge for the platform they are building, but also an opportunity to solve a problem others are having.

But the devices themselves remain a source of interest and innovation. Wendt said the team has plans for all manner of devices depending on battery power, frequency of communication, size and durability. They are currently considering placing sensors in waste bins to detect when they need to be emptied.

Still, management could be an issue for data, physical maintenance and lines of control for each device. Who has to go out and change a dead sensor in the lake? Parks? IT? The local scuba club?

Despite these challenges, Wendt is confident Gothenburg has built a platform that can meet those needs. Building on Kubernetes, he said, allows for each workload to be securely isolated, and the data associated with it can be encrypted in transit and at rest, to keep it in compliance with regulations like GDPR. That will also be important if and when the team rolls its platform out to the city healthcare systems.

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