Adoption of smart water technologies remains a utility “management challenge”

May 10, 2017
The smart water technology market is growing, with new companies entering and partnerships being forged yet convincing utilities remains a challenge...

LONDON, England – The smart water market is growing, with companies entering and partnerships being forged yet convincing utilities to adopt new technologies continues to remain a challenge.

During the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) annual conference held in London this week, interactive poll questions were sent to the audience through a smartphone app.

Attendees were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Adoption of data-driven technologies is not a technological challenge but rather a management challenge within utilities.”

A total of 81% of people who voted agreed with the statement, suggesting that while the technology has been developed to enable smarter water networks, there remains a challenge to convince water utilities.

This year’s event attracted over 200 attendees from 30 counties – a significant increase since the event started in 2011 with 20 attendees.

As part of an update on SWAN, executive director Amir Cahn announced that a beta version of a new wastewater network management tool is now available.

Utility perspectives

Speaking at the event, Michael Toh, director of water supply (network) department at Singapore water agency PUB, said: “The water sector is conservative but this is deservedly so.”

He added: “Being inundated by data can be intimidating for a utility – how can we be sure we don’t miss anything? We need a common data platform for different vendors so it becomes more user friendly. We also need to share experiences and talk about mistakes.”

Meanwhile, George Theo, CEO of utility Unitywater in Australia likened smart water networks to the human nervous system.

“Smart water networks are like a human body – if we have a sore knee, a message is sent to our brains. We have to ask the question of how can we turn dumb pipes and the network around to tell us something is happening before it occurs.”

He said: “At Unitywater we are at a point where we can turn our water network into a smart network – we have a couple more dots to connect but the sewerage network remains the poor cousin left behind by smart water developments.”

The CEO said the utility is also getting interesting insights from social media. In one incident, following heavy storm water the local media reported that the utility’s water wasn’t safe to drink. Unitywater used social media channels to quickly address this and inform customers the water supply was safe.

On the billing side, the Unitywater CEO said they managed to save AUD$1 million per year by converting 100,000 customers from paper to digital bills, at a mere cost of AUD$6,000.

Dr Tin-Lai Lee from the Taiwan Water Coporation said one of the key drivers for the adoption of smart technologies is that 40% of the utility’s workforce is set to retire soon.

As part of a water reduction plan from 2013-2020, Taiwan aims to cut leakage levels down to 14.25% by 2022, from 16.35% this year.

The utility has started pilot projects with British companies HWM Global and i20, which Dr Lee reported had “calmed down leakage”.

A new smart water leader

Following the launch of its North American Alliance, SWAN is also launching an Asia-Pacific Alliance and is looking for lead partners.

Commenting on the adoption of smart technologies in the US, Marc Bracken, chairman of SWAN North America said: “In five years the US has overtaken other parts of the world in terms of the adoption of AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) and smart networks…North America is becoming a smart water leader.”

Will Maize, senior analyst at Bluefield Research added that the US has seen the “highest adoption level of AMI”.

He also said that Singapore and Israel had witnessed a high adoption of smart water technology, driven by water scarcity.

The digital water revolution currently taking place has led to multiple industry partnerships and acquisitions in recent months. Companies traditionally involved in segments such as pumps are looking to diversify into the smart water space.

Last week Danish pump company Grundfos partnered with Israeli firm TaKaDu (read story), with Xylem acquiring US smart metering company Sensus and Singapore firm Visenti prior to that.

With new companies entering the market, such as Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei (read story),it has become an exciting space and one which is gaining the interest of investors.

Despite this, during a panel debate on finance, it was said that only 0.25% of global venture capital is directed towards the water market.

Since its first event in 2011, the SWAN annual conference has gathered momentum, with utilities now making up 30% of members and actively participating.

Water suppliers are now talking about pilot projects, results and impacts on efficiency and leakage, rather than speculating on what could be improved.

Water may be late to the digital and smart technology table, but it now has a firm place as it looks to slowly, but surely, improve efficiencies.


Read/watch more

Grundfos/TaKaDu join forces to tap growing digital water market

Chinese firm Huawei enters smart water meter market

About the Author

Tom Freyberg

Tom Freyberg is an experienced environmental journalist, having worked across a variety of business-to-business titles. Since joining Pennwell in 2010, he has been influential in developing international partnerships for the water brand and has overseen digital developments, including 360 degree video case studies. He has interviewed high level figures, including NYSE CEO’s and Environmental Ministers. A known figure in the global water industry, Tom has chaired and spoken at conferences around the world, from Helsinki, to London and Singapore. An English graduate from Exeter University, Tom completed his PMA journalism training in London.

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