Focus on Smart Infrastructure Solutions, Part 2By Andreas Weingartner | Tue, 05/31/2022 - 09:00
Focus Smart Water
As a reference for what has been said in part 1 of this article, the casAgua water project will develop an innovative and holistic water solution for private and public buildings in the urban area, and last not least an increase in comfort for the house users. The focus is Mexico City but the results can be applied in any location globally that is suffering from water shortages and water quality problems due to a long dry season with barely any precipitation, but concentrated rainfalls during a short period, which can be arid, semi-arid, or (sub)tropical highland climates, such as in Mexico City.
The ongoing changes of our global climate will not help to relax this situation.
With the absurdly low cost of water, any increase in water efficiency will currently not pay dividends to private investors in Mexico. This means that such investments will be reserved for people with a strong mind for sustainability. But certainly, appropriate water prices — with a strong social component — would be a key to more efficient use of water in the future.
Under Mexico City’s conditions – with 6 months of almost no rain, every drop is important, and every drop should be collected and wisely used, - which demands a change of “water use culture.”
Phases of the casAgua architectural project:
The main idea is to close the water cycle of a historic Mexico City villa by use of intelligent technologies, so that the water cycle can be managed more efficiently, turning this villa sustainable and (almost) independent from external supplies.
A focus will be on smart sensors and their IoT infrastructure for the monitoring and control of the water cycle, because traditional manual procedures are not fit for the efficient management of the domestic water cycle in all its phases and occurrences. Other innovative water technologies will be implemented, some of them introduced by the founder, and all of them under the umbrella of the casAgua Incubadora: From efficient in-house use over rainwater collection to gray water recycling and wastewater re-use, including the feeding of nutrients from wastewater into in-house food production (see picture above). The contribution potential of each component of the cycle will be evaluated and prioritized, and awareness of the house users promoted.
From a quantitative perspective, gray water recycling plays an even more important role than rainwater collection: In casAgua, about 150m3 of rainwater can be collected over an average year, but about 250m3, or 80 percent, of gray water can be recycled and re-used over the same period. In both areas, a surprising lack of research, expertise and entrepreneurial activity is to be observed in Mexico, which is why casAgua focuses promotion in these fields.
casAgua will provide offices and a laboratory for startups (the Incubadora) and students as well as apartments for students and entrepreneurs. The inhabitants can expect an increase in comfort, quality, and safety, but also will be part of the experimental and documentation activities of the project.
casAgua will be the testbench and reference for all these technologies and the technological, ecological and economic basis for the startups.
Furthermore, the house will be a reference for the sustainability potential in Mexico City.
The resulting water awareness should transfer from the casAgua project to society via the Water Transparency Foundation, see below.
Focus Smart Energy
While water is a precious and rare resource in Mexico City, the sun shines almost every day of the year and collectable energy is plenty. Therefore, investments into the energy system can have a relatively short return, compared to the water system.
We are going to prove that under Mexico’s solar conditions, it is possible to completely supply a big, energy-efficient house by cost-efficient photovoltaic and solar thermal systems. Again, there will be a substantial increase of comfort for the house users, for example, by having comfortable temperatures in each room of the house all year long.
Electricity:This will be produced by a large photovoltaic wall that is aesthetically integrated into the architectural concept (see figure above). Five apartments for 10 people and four offices for 8 people need to be supplied. A small electric car will be provided for all house users, charged in-house by solar energy. Large photovoltaic panels will be installed with ca. 12kW peak power and ca. 90kWh/d energy production on average. Due to fluctuations in supply and demand, total independence would take large storage capacity and would not be sustainable due to the environmental footprint of batteries. Therefore, a connection to the network must remain for now, until better storage options are available.
Heating: It is quite absurd that during winters, Mexicans are freezing in their houses or using electric heaters while the sun is shining almost every day. Unlike other countries in the world, there is so much solar energy available that it only takes harvesting and storing for a short time to keep a house at a comfortable temperature level at any time. Solar heat will be produced directly through innovative thermal air collectors and not via electricity, because thermal collectors are much more efficient. The innovative floor-heating systems will be via hot air, like in the Roman hypocaust system.
Hot water:This is another absurdity. Hot water is still produced using fossil energy in Mexico. Solar water heating is easy, safe and cost-efficient. Hot air will be converted into hot water by use of heat exchangers. The return on investment is short under Mexico’s climatic conditions. There will be sufficient hot water storage to bridge periods without sunshine.
The Water Transparency Foundation
Finally, under the same umbrella of casAgua, we would like to introduce the Water Transparency Foundation (WT).
We are convinced that ”Transparency” is the first and most important step in any healing process.
We believe that once the extent of water problems becomes transparent, officials and politicians will have a better understanding and find the motivation to develop concepts to take necessary action.
Therefore, our mission is to make water data transparent and public by using scientific tools and to make water data understandable: Data must be transformed into graphical formats that everybody can read, such as water-pressure data displayed just like traffic data in Google maps.
The Foundation will serve society with activities in the fields of research, documentation, networking, and communication to promote the idea of making water data transparent and understandable for everybody.
In addition, the Foundation will provide free-of-charge services to all interested parties who wish to publish their water-related data on a data visualization portal and will transform such scientific data into information that is accessible to a broad audience.
The “WT Award” will be given for scientific, civil or political contributions and achievements that promote water data transparency. The “WT Certificate” will score the degree of water data transparency in specific projects, programs, institutions and geographical situations. The “WT Data Portal” will be a noncommercial, nonprofit, freely accessible water data portal to be offered to the public, but also to startups and young enterprises as a basis for developing new (digital) businesses. “WT Maps and Visualizations” will provide a picture of water data on a geographical and temporal scale and will translate these data into information and make them understandable to the wider public via “water apps.” Finally, the “WT Scholarship” will support master, Ph.D. or other relevant studies in the field of water data transparency and other water studies