Key Insights

Porto’s Smart Water Management

ESI ThoughtLab

Porto, Portugal stands out among cities in Europe in its dedication to using cutting-edge technology to become more environmentally and socially responsible. In 2020 it was selected by the European Commission to be part of the “Intelligent Cities Challenge”, an initiative to support and transform 120 cities into smart and sustainable urban centers. One example of Porto’s successes is its use of smart technology to improve its entire urban water cycle.

Aguas do Porto (AdP), the city’s public water utility, is responsible for water supply, wastewater drainage and treatment, and stormwater treatment. As the company’s hydraulic infrastructure grew increasingly complex, it needed a holistic, integrated, and sustainable way to access data and manage its water cycle, including to forecast flood risks and water quality issues, and improve decision-making and system resilience.

Todo so the city commissioned a group of vendors to create a single, smart water management platform called H2Porto, the utility’s digital twin. The consortium, which included Bentley, Aqualogus, A2O, and other partners, integrated all datasources, including geospatial information systems, real-time network sensors, household meters, laboratory, billing, work orders, and logistics into H2Porto.This digital twin of the water system can model water levels based on real-world conditions and weather forecasts to predict flooding and other service-related problems. It allows for integrated real-time management of the system as well as remote monitoring of networks and teams. H2PORTO also includes an application for the provision of information to the public, allowing, for example, customers to receive notices whenever there is a need to cut the water supply to a particular area of the city.

This smart technology generated immediate results. After its deployment, the city’s water service interruptions decreased by 22.9%; sewer collapses decreased by54%; and repairs for pipe burst and sewer and service connections improved by8.3% and 45.5%, respectively. The integration of real-time data and the ability to access information in the field helped to improve operating gains by 23%.The platform also helped to increase the accuracy of data produced from sensor readings to nearly 99%—allowing for better decision-making, and, according to the utility, an increase in employee and customer satisfaction.

   How H2Porto improved performance    

Acity that leads by example

Water management is not the only area of focus for Porto’s city leaders. Filipe Araujo, vice mayor of Porto, is a champion for the city’s transformation into a sustainable city of the future. Across all urban domains, he has a vision, and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for his plans.

“When developing our environmental, digital, and other strategies we look at our assets and measure the impact on the SDGs,”he said.

The city has initiatives around clean and affordable energy, social cohesion, mobility, waste recycling, digitization, and economic diversification. The pandemic heightened the importance of other areas, such as food security, as it strained the food supply chain.

Regarding mobility, Araujo sees public transport as the future for Porto, and works to ensure that it is inclusive and affordable. The city heavily subsidizes the cost of public transport, for instance allowing children up to the age of 18 to ride for free. Part of the cost is being offset by carbon taxes. “We are truly betting on changing the way people see public transport. We believe it will be the way people move in the city in the future,” said Araujo.

With so many projects on his plate, the vice mayor sees his role as one that not only drives change within the government, but that also sets an example for—and pushes—the private sector. The city has special programs on entrepreneurship and works with a variety of incubators and start-ups. Mobilizing private investment is a key challenge ahead.

“To achieve our goals, we must push on everything, and I would say inspire by example. The public sector has to have a strong message,” said Araujo.

Porto’s approach to digital innovation and the UN’s SDGs

Providing clean and efficient energy

Porto is giving clean and affordable energy particularly high priority. More than 70%of the city fleet is comprised of electric vehicles. For its public buildings and facilities, the city uses only renewable energy, whether from solar, wind, or hydroelectric sources. It is also promoting clean energy use in homes. The city owns 13% of the buildings in Porto, most of which are social housing stock. It has an initiative under way to build and support “energy communities”.  These are associations of residents who come together to invest in and install solar panels across their neighborhood, thereby creating efficiencies and providing less costly energy in a more sustainable way. 

Similarly, the city has a project to install solar panels on buildings such as schools, which will provide necessary energy by day. Batteries will be installed to capture some of the energy that can then be distributed and used at night.

The city is also renovating some of its existing buildings and housing stock to make them more energy efficient. In the last year it invested more than €100million to retrofit buildings, resulting in a 40% decrease in energy consumption in these properties. All new public buildings are being built withLEED certifications to ensure they are meeting the best sustainability standards.  

“Our work on sustainability is not rocket science, it is feasible. There is also a business case. The city is a good laboratory for testing and is making a huge effort to be an example and show the private sector what is possible,” said Araujo.