Digitization results in greater competitiveness of activities in which water, both in volume and opportunity, is a key and irreplaceable factor
Among the important priorities in the European Union for the coming years is a Europe for the digital age. The goal is to empower people and promote technologies and the fight against climate change in order to be the first climate-neutral continent. As initiatives within the European Green Deal that particularly affect agriculture, we can mention the Biodiversity Strategy and the Farm to Fork Strategy. All actions will be developed in this context in the coming years.
Water as a basic resource for the population, agriculture and biodiversity is of concern due to its availability. On the other hand, the relationship between water and energy constitutes an indissoluble binomial that requires an effort to be more efficient in this relationship and in the search for renewable energies that satisfy the strategies of the Green Deal.
In the last decade, the great revolution in new information and communication technologies, sensors and automatic processing capacity has opened up new possibilities for optimizing the water-energy nexus. Therefore, we are in a revolutionary digital age that offers an opportunity for intelligent water management.
Being aware of this reality, the European Association for Innovation in the field of water considers smart technologies as basic for all the priorities established in it.
Big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, remote sensors, administration and control of data monitoring systems will be increasingly incorporated into the water sector as part of the so-called Industry 4.0 or Agriculture 4.0. They are considered for this purpose as disruptive technologies.
It can be said that these technologies are undergoing a process of change faster than ever. New advances and opportunities continually arise that can play a crucial role in resource management and as a tool in new water management policies, giving symmetrical power to all the actors involved.
It should be noted that true digital transformation consists of providing the best information so that the best possible decisions can be made. The digitalization of the water sector brings several benefits in agriculture:
-An improvement in productivity. For example, precision irrigation applies the most appropriate amount of water at the most convenient time.
-Greater resilience. Critical drought situations sharpen ingenuity and processing the information acquired allows us to anticipate the future.
-An increase in sustainability. The acquisition of information on the relationships and interactions between water and the natural environment and human activity are key in defining successful policies.
In short, digitization results in greater competitiveness of activities in which water, both in volume and opportunity, is a key and irreplaceable factor.
In the case of water distribution networks, the use of sensors, the internet of things, an adequate communications system, hydraulic models, artificial intelligence techniques, digital twins and predictive systems that are fed from the cloud allow intelligent management. These techniques are already being applied in supply and to a lesser extent in irrigation, achieving, on average, energy savings of more than 20% with little effort.
Regarding water management, artificial intelligence supported by predictive systems favors the use of water in a community of irrigators in periods when electricity is cheaper.
An additional and no less important alternative is the use of renewable energies. Distribution networks have excess pressure at some points that, paradoxically, is dissipated by mechanical mechanisms. This energy can be recovered through turbines, micro and picoturbines and used for another purpose.
But without a doubt, the clearest alternative for the use of renewable energy in agriculture is presented by photovoltaic energy. In the case of irrigation, it is an ideal solution. Generally, the maximum water needs of crops coincide with the periods of maximum irradiance, they are located in a rural environment with easy availability of space and the costs of photovoltaic panels are today very competitive.
However, its implementation is not so easy. It requires holistic solutions that address the problem in an integral way from the knowledge of the soil, the plant, the hydraulic irrigation network and climate variability. All this is the basis of sustainable, intelligent and future-oriented irrigation.
The growth of digital technologies is being driven in companies by the need to reduce costs, improve efficiency and increase competitiveness.
In the agricultural field, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food considers digitization as a transversal axis and established a digitization strategy in 2019 that contemplates training as a factor to be developed. This is a worrying aspect since technicians trained in digital skills are required and who know how to respond to the new challenges that arise.
Despite the multiple advantages that technologies offer in agriculture, their adoption is not taking place at the same rate as in industry. Following Rogers's model of innovation, we are now in the phase called "the abyss." This phase separates the visionaries and innovators from the pragmatists and conservatives, who constitute the critical mass.
It is to be hoped that the Next Generation funds, largely linked to the ecological and digital transition, will give a definitive boost to the adoption of information and communication technologies.
However, although the digital age has only just begun, moments of change are moments of opportunity. The internet industry opens up a world of possibilities for all sectors, including the water sector.
EMILIO CAMACHO POYATO IS UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, MARÍA DE MAEZTU UNIT OF EXCELLENCE, DEPARTMENT OF AGRONOMY (DAUCO), UNIVERSITY OF CÓRDOBA. RAFAEL GONZÁLEZ PEREA IS A RESEARCHER AT THE MARÍA DE MAEZTU UNIT OF EXCELLENCE DEPARTMENT OF AGRONOMY (DAUCO), UNIVERSITY OF CÓRDOBA