Screen shot 2009-11-13 at 10.50.39 AMIBM has become one of the first computing companies to adapt its software for smarter water management — an area of development that has been overlooked with so much attention fixed on the smart electrical grid (an area that IBM has also aggressively pursued). Now it’s landed deals with three utilities.

To prevent water waste and contamination, IBM is offering specifically-designed sensors for utilities to install at different points in their water distribution systems. The Power and Water Corporation, based in Australia’s Northern Territory, the Fukuoka District Waterworks Agency, delivering water to eight cities in Japan, and the Lower Colorado River Authority, serving 2.2 million residents, have all signed on.

In Australia, the Power and Water Corporation — serving 80,000 people — has agreed to pay IBM $14.5 million to help it design and build a new system to more efficiently manage the delivery of both water and electricity, as well as sewage. The revamp effort will focus on asset management technology used to track the integrity of equipment throughout the system, including pumps, valves, substations, etc. The utility will be able to immediately spot, then fix or isolate, any malfunctioning equipment that could cause waste or contamination.

The Lower Colorado River Authority says it will be using IBM software to lower its maintenance and waste costs. Covering 58 counties in Texas, the company will use IBM tools to manage both water and electricity transmission systems.

Taking a different angle, the Fukuoka District Waterworks Agency‘s goal is to up the amount of drinkable water in its coverage area. The utility especially wants to keep closer tabs on its seawater desalination plant that pumps out water for 2.3 million people. Planning to implement IBM’s asset-management software by 2010, the company wants to make sure the water being produced by the plant is suitable for drinking. It’s hoping that the software will help it target areas for reducing costs as it goes about renewing its water distribution facilities.

IBM has been making asset management software for years, but only recently began transitioning it for use in smart water systems. Its current offering allows utilities to view their entire systems at once while being immediately alerted to service disruptions like broken pipes and sharp decreases in water quality. It highlights where the problems are occurring on a map, saving the time and energy previously required to locate issues — and even provides managers with the history of the equipment involved. For example, if a valve somewhere in the system breaks, a technician will know immediately where to send maintenance crews and will be able to see when the valve was last repaired, indicating whether or not it needs to be replaced.

IBM is impressively early to the smart water market, which could amount to $16.3 billion by 2020, according to a recent report by Lux Research. It will be interesting to see if the other major Smart Grid players — Cisco Systems, General Electric, and Intel, for example — start making more noise in this area as well.

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