I’m a big fan of stories that see technology applied to everyday life. While Silicon Valley is an echo chamber of building solutions to make the lives of Silicon Valley-dwellers easier, when those smarts are applied to situations in the real world, the impacts can be much more impressive.

A simple, but powerful, example of this came recently when Schneider Electric, the energy management, and automation vendor, presented a case study at Microsoft’s Inspire conference. The case study revolved around how Schneider worked with Waterforce, an irrigation and water management company from my own neck of the woods, New Zealand, to develop a mobile, cloud-based IoT solution.

The solution helps farmers monitor and control irrigation pumps from their connected devices, empowering them to operate irrigation pivots with greater agility, efficiency, and sustainability. This is, of course, a hugely important area for potential innovation. Currently, agriculture accounts for nearly 70% of the world’s water consumption and the farming industry is poised to become increasingly strained over the next few decades as global food demands rise. The application of connected devices (the Internet of Things), analytics and the combination of cloud-based number-crunching with mobile access can make a big difference to agricultural efficiencies.

Schneider Electric is a company with a long history in industrial automation. As such it is an ideal candidate for embarking upon a journey in this new area. EcoStruxure is Schneider Electric’s IoT-enabled system architecture and platform. It delivers connected products, edge control, and apps, analytics, and services, and enables different industrial users to design and operate connected systems for increased efficiency.

The solution is currently implemented at Blackhills Farm in New Zealand to monitor and manage its water use. The farm is able to remotely monitor and operate irrigators and pumps; customize sprinklers for individual crops, soil types and moisture levels; and incorporate real-time data from a weather station on the farm, which helps Blackhills adjust irrigation for rain, wind, heat and other conditions. The solution has resulted in 30% savings in water utilization and 50% reduction in energy costs, by shifting irrigation behavior and taking advantage of off-peak energy rates. And usually understated farmers are impressed, Craig Blackburn, Director / Farm Manager of Blackhills Farm says:

Every day I adjust my pivots and pumps for a variety of reasons – shifts in the wind, rain levels, crop requirements or local regulations. Now I can monitor and control my irrigation system easily from my mobile phone, saving me hours of time not spent driving around the farm. With information at my fingertips, my farm is more productive, water and energy costs are lower and crop yields higher.

What is nice about this solution, compared to many industrial automation stories is its ability to work with a farm’s existing equipment, such as irrigation and pump controllers. This means (and the often miserly farmers will like this one) no significant capital investment is required before seeing benefits. As do the companies who can implement these solutions. Ron McFetridge, Director of WaterForce says that:

Most farms are not built to handle large software installations. Using a lightweight, cloud solution with mobile capabilities has been key to expanding IoT capabilities to these farms. By leveraging our relationship with Schneider Electric, we can focus on our core business – effective water management – knowing that the information management, analytics and automation side is covered.

And finally ramming home the message that water efficiency is of increasing criticality, Rob McGreevey, Vice President of Information, Operations and Asset Management at Schneider Electric, says:

By 2050 we will need 55% more water to nourish the growing demand for food, so efficient irrigation is critical. We believe driving operational improvements and efficiencies at these farms is a key component to sustainably feeding the planet.

MyPOV

I’m all for real-world examples. And when they show the application of smart technology to a traditional industry, and one that is happening in my own location to boot, I’m sold. I like the fact this is able to be applied to existing capital assets and is an exemplar for the application of IoT in other sectors.

 

 

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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