July 19, 2016

I have a confession to make – I have a love-hate relationship with information technology. In the era of the “smart” meter, the “smart” home, and the “smart” device, there are times that I have trouble keeping up with its relentless pace. However, what I notice about my personal use of “Information Technology” is its reflection of my life – where I invest time on “InfoTech” to achieve personal or professional goals or authentically interact with others, I feel engaged and focused, and I am more effective.

I see a reflection of my personal experience in the world of water conservation. There is a surge of InfoTech entering the water sector, especially “cloud”-based platforms and solutions. The goal of this blog is to help explain what is meant by the “cloud” or “cloud computing,” how it works, and how you can use “the cloud” at home to helping you achieve your water conservation goals (as opposed to distracting you from them).

What is “The Cloud”?
My favorite article title on this topic is from Recode’s “Too Embarrassed to Ask” series, What is the Cloud and How Does It Work? The article simply states that the cloud “refers to software and services that run on the Internet, instead of locally on your computer.” According to PC Magazine, the term “cloud” originated from flowcharts and presentations that “represent the gigantic server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.”

The-Cloud“Cloud services,” therefore, are provided via the computational power of servers managed by companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and others. Cloud services include GoogleDrive, Apple iCloud, Netflix, and Dropbox. If you use a FitBit or play Clash of Clans, you are using the cloud to run programs and store data.

The primary advantage of the cloud is that you can access your information on any device with an Internet connection, whether a computer, phone, or tablet. A secondary advantage is that others in your family can also access the same information, helping you to work together.

The cloud-based services that I use most effectively help me set and track goals and collaborate with my friends and family. Specifically, I’ve lost weight successfully using MyFitnessPal because I can set my goals, track my progress, and access their database while I am in the middle of my routine (in this case, eating). I also use an app called Runtastic to track my (short and slow) runs a couple of times a week, which provides distance, pace, and calorie burn information. Even Facebook has helped me stay in touch with friends and family when we have needed encouragement and support, or to celebrate true milestones.

Water Conservation Savings at Home
Most cloud-based systems for the home, focus on controlling your automatic sprinkler or watering systems and managing your total household water use.

AppsCloud-based irrigation controllers such as Skydrop, Iro, and others use cloud computing to manage your system. You set your irrigation schedule and also tell the controller to keep track of how often it rains and what kind of grass or plants you have in your yard. The controller adjusts the amount of water your sprinkler system uses by comparing what your plants or grass need against how much rain you’ve had recently.

Droplet is an interesting gadget. Basically it’s a robotic sprinkler using cloud technology and it attaches right to the end of your garden hose.

Besides irrigation monitoring, there are other systems that let you see how much total water you have been using in your home, sometimes estimating it by the types of indoor and outdoor fixtures you have. Most of these systems are provided by your utility – for example, some developers such as WaterSmart and DropCountr have created apps and Internet portals allowing you to login and understand your water use, and to compare your water use against similar houses (in terms number of occupants, size of your landscape, whether you have a pool, etc.) nearby. There are other companies such as FATHOM who can also provide this information if your utility has provided you with a “Smart Meter,” or a meter that automatically reads your water use every 15 minutes and stores that data on the cloud.

Should I Switch to the Cloud?
While a cloud-based solution can be incredibly helpful, it still takes time to learn how to use it to get the desired result. If you like new technology and want to play with it, then most of the above solutions will be a good fit for you. You may run into unexpected results, like needing to install a Wi-Fi extender to make sure an outdoor controller can “talk” to the Internet. If new technology frustrates you, then you should either get help in setting up a new system (like from an irrigation contractor for a smart controller) or wait until there are more people in the neighborhood using these systems. While it may be tempting to ask a nearby teenager to help get a system set up for you, it’s not just about learning the technology – it’s also about understanding water use and especially what will work with your landscape.

By doing prep work and keeping an open mind about how you currently use water, cloud services can make it easier and more fun to meet your goals. So you see, there’s more than one way to get water from the cloud.

From time to time, Water – Use It Wisely features guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. Jonathan Kleinman is the CEO of AIQUEOUS, a technology company headquartered in Austin, TX that brings cloud technology to utilities’ relationships with their customers. Jonathan has over two decades of experience in the energy and water sectors, and earned his Masters Degree in Technology and Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.