Spotlight Interviews – Valerie Houlden

Valerie HouldenValerie Houlden leads the Water area of MK:Smart. She is a Principal Scientist for HR Wallingford – an independent engineering and environmental hydraulics organisation, delivering practical solutions to complex water-related challenges.

Where do you work?
I work for HR Wallingford, an environmental hydraulics organisation, based in Wallingford in Oxfordshire. We work on consultancy and research projects across the UK and internationally.

Who do you work with?
There are over 250 scientists and engineers at HR Wallingford, including several world-renowned experts in their field. The MK:Smart team at HR Wallingford includes scientists with expertise in water resources management, hydrology and information management. We’re working closely with other partners involved in MK:Smart, particularly Anglian Water and MK Council.

What area of MK:Smart do you work on?
I am leading the Water area of MK:Smart, which has the goal of improving water use efficiency in Milton Keynes. The rationale is that sustainable water resources management is essential for underpinning the economic growth of the city.

Milton Keynes is in the Anglian region, which is already one of the driest parts of the UK and climate change projections show that potential changes in rainfall and temperature may result in a reduction of water availability in the future.  This, combined with the fact that Milton Keynes is one of the key growth areas for population and business with expected associated growth in water demand, means there is going to be substantial pressure on water resources in and around MK in the future. As a result that does mean that we will need to manage water resources in the region very carefully.

What are your project highlights so far?
Highlights of the project so far, for me, have included the MK:Smart Citizen Lab ideas workshop on water, organised by Community Action: MK. This involved the project team meeting people from local community groups in Milton Keynes to brainstorm and discuss ideas for promoting more efficient water use across the city. It was really helpful to speak to people to get some initial feedback on our ideas, and also to see the interesting and exciting ideas that they had for managing water. Another highlight was going to a seminar on smart technologies, hosted by Anglian Water, where I had the opportunity to meet other experts working in the field of smart water technology and learn about concepts and ideas that are starting to be implemented in countries across the world.

What is happening in the Water area of the project over the next couple of months?
We’re developing a water demand management system and testing this through some pilot programmes in Milton Keynes. The purpose of the water demand management system, which we are likely to name “myWater”, is to provide people with better information about how much water they use, what the cost is and what the associated energy and carbon use is that relates to the water use. Our ideas about what myWater will look like and how people can interact with it are still developing. We are planning to trial the system with some households, businesses, council buildings and schools in Milton Keynes.

Over the next couple of months we will be finalising our conceptual design of the myWater system, which means that the system developers will be able to start work on developing it so that it can be used by those trialling it. We are also working with Anglian Water and MK Council to set up the pilot programmes for trialling the system.

Any predictions about Smart City developments in the future?
It is an exciting time for smart cities, with concepts being turned into a reality with example applications through initiatives like the MK:Smart project. I think that as MK:Smart and other projects develop, the technologies will become better understood and more widespread, which will iterate into further innovation in the technologies that are available.