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Freddie Guerra, North American Digital Water Lead – GHD
GHD recognises and understands the world is constantly changing. We are committed to solving the world’s biggest challenges in the areas of water, energy and urbanisation. We are a global professional services company that leads though engineering and architectural skills and experience. Our forward-looking, innovative approaches connect and sustain communities around the world. Delivering extraordinary social and economic outcomes, we are focused on building lasting relationships with our partners and clients.
Established in 1928, we remain wholly owned by our people. We are 10,000+ diverse and skilled individuals connected by over 200 offices, across five continents – Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America, and the Pacific region.
GHD is focused on the nexus of innovation and technology within the water sector. How do you help utilities shift their mindset from “doing digital” to “being digital”?
There are two types of digital attitudes for organisations – “doing digital” or “being digital.” “Doing digital” describes companies that leverage technologies to enhance their capabilities or address issues while still relying on legacy operating models.
In contrast, “being digital” describes those that have shifted customer, employee and asset models into a new reality. A reality where agility is the new norm, technology and data are the enablers, human experience is the focus, and certainty of value is the outcome.
GHD is empowering and building capability within organisations to allow them to solve problems today, tomorrow, and beyond, and achieve their missions. We’re helping organisations implement digital functions so that they can do things faster, cheaper, and better while also reimagining the way they work, operate, plan, and more.
Utility digital transformation is driven by technological advances, heightened environmental awareness and evolving customer expectations such as affordability and equity. What are the key challenges to realise digital opportunities to foster this transformation?
True digital transformation is more than the implementation of new technologies – it requires an overhaul of organisational structures, governance, work processes, culture and mindset.
We also need to be prepared to address the challenges associated with digitisation:
There needs to be collaboration to figure out exactly how to scale up new processes enabled by digital technology. How are we going to capture, store and share valuable data across our system? Machine learning and artificial intelligence will play an integral role in this. We need to think about how to implement end-to-end processes from smart capital to intelligent operations.
Along with technology, it is essential we do our due diligence and phase in the right IT systems to support the switch to digital. It is imperative to have a planned transition strategy because being digital requires an overhaul of organisational structures and distributing new roles across existing staff to support the new technologies. By addressing these challenges, utilities will better understand their customers and deliver improved outcomes, provide services more effectively and efficiently, find new solutions for challenges, find new sources of revenue, and more.
As an experienced strategist in the water sector, what critical areas must utilities consider if they are to deliver on a 21st century mission?
In the past, the core mission of utilities like water, was to protect public health and provide quality water service. However, in a world that has been shaped by pandemics, extreme weather, and economic disruptions, today’s customers are expecting more from their water suppliers.
Digitisation is helping meet the demands of 21st-century consumers in several ways. Through elevating the customer experience, generating more public value and expanding citizen security, utilities are creating tools to encourage greater collaboration and participation by consumers, all while safeguarding and protecting them. Utilities must be prepared to protect their customers from a wide range of threats or risk losing trust. Active defense strategies and advanced threat intelligence that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) provide a basis for withstanding more sophisticated attack methods.
Utilities must also create the future workforce. Utilities need to augment their employees’ skills and capabilities to drive greater efficiencies, elevate customer focus while strengthening inclusion and diversity. In a competitive labour market, the public sector has not always been the first employer of choice for top talent. As utilities gradually build a more dynamic work environment, they will need to consider options to attract younger workers and millennials who are in search of purpose-led roles where they make a difference to society. Organisations ought to do more to attract, retain and develop people with the required skill sets across a wide range of areas.
Lastly, by developing smarter infrastructure, utilities can harness the latest technologies to maximise value and efficiency while creating resilience and sustainability. By taking on this outlook, companies will begin to apply digital technologies, such as smart devices, sensors, and software, to physical structures like pump stations or water treatment plants. These intelligent applications result in more efficient and effective monitoring and greater control of water and wastewater systems.
Please share your outlook on the value of intelligent asset management in the smart water world.
Utilities should consider leaving traditional asset management behind and developing a holistic strategy with robust data governance and cybersecurity at its core. Previously, infrastructure was managed based on historical snapshots from condition assessments. Digitising assets allows for the proliferation of smart devices and enables utilities to manage assets intelligently through real-time data and insights.
GHD’s intelligent asset management enables utilities to manage assets with near real-time data and insights vs. managing assets based on historical snapshots from condition assessments. These smart devices link data with communications technologies, then use analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to inform utilities about “what is going on,” “what may happen,” and if something does occur, “what to do.”
Intelligent asset management advances new ways to manage assets in near real-time while boosting operational efficiencies, saving costs, increasing asset life expectancy, improving reliability, and enhancing safety. This approach is the foundation for a smart water utility.
Carmen de Miguel, Strategic Marketing Manager, Water & Wastewater Segment – Schneider Electric
The purpose of Schneider Electric is to empower all to make the most of our energy and resources, bridging progress and sustainability for all and acting as your digital partner for Sustainability and Efficiency.
We drive digital transformation by integrating world-leading process and energy technologies, end-point to cloud connecting products, controls, software and services, across the entire lifecycle, enabling integrated company management, for homes, buildings, data centers, infrastructure and industries.
As a founding member of SWAN, what do you see as SE’s role in advancing the smart water/wastewater industry?
Schneider Electric holds innovation in its DNA and sustainability at the core. When we co-founded SWAN back in 2010, we had the vision that technology was the way for the water industry to address its present and future challenges, and now more than ever we believe that the future for sustainable and resilient water is digital. We work with our customers and our partners to drive digital transformation towards decarbonisation, electrification, efficiency, and circularity in water. Our approach is focused on combining energy and process to decarbonise water infrastructures, enabling end-to-end asset management and optimised operations through our simulation-based digital platform and services, and achieving full management of water resources by unified operations solutions.
What was the motivation for SE’s new joint venture with SUEZ and how will this impact the water sector?
The motivation for the JV creation was to provide complementary expertise, strengthen agility and leadership in this fast-growing digital water market. This was communicated in March 2021 by executives of both companies:
Diane Galbe, SUEZ Group SEVP, Smart & Environmental Solutions global Business Unit and Strategy: “The creation of this joint venture is fully in line with the SUEZ 2030 strategic plan which aims to use cutting-edge technologies in order to offer all of our customers’ digital solutions that are 100% sustainable in terms of their impact on health, quality of life, environment, and climate.
Peter Herweck, EVP Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric: “…we are creating new solutions and services to empower our customers with actionable information to manage their process and assets more efficiently. With this joint venture, we look forward to becoming the digital partner of water cycle players, enabling them to reach true resiliency and sustainability.”
SE has received several ‘Sustainability’ accolades, including recently being listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). How does this influence your work, especially in emerging markets?
Being recognised as a world leader and trusted advisor in sustainability is a tremendous honour that makes all of us in Schneider Electric proud and even more committed to our job, since we have a clear purpose and we see a positive impact in what we do. Water is right at the centre of sustainability and having worked in the water industry for 25 years gives me some perspective about the role of our sector in life and environment preservation, as well as in the economic and social development. I am truly passionate about my job and about the opportunities that technology brings to improve the way water is managed. Since my role is globally positioned, I get the chance to see the impact in emerging economies, and how technology paves the way for the sustainable development of cities and communities. That makes me proud of our customers and my SE colleagues.
Looking back over your career in the water sector, what is the most important piece of advice you received and how can young professionals apply it today as they begin their career journey?
There are several of them from different people. If I had to pick one, it would be what my younger sister told me when I had to decide about a quite challenging job opportunity at the beginning of my career: “Whatever you decide, do not look back and rethink since you will always find reason to regret, just make your decision and go ahead”. This is applicable to all facets of life and I recognise I have followed that advice and never regretted a decision. Lastly, I would like to dedicate another one to young professionals, who are the future of our industry. The phrase is not mine, but I entirely subscribe to it: The future belongs to those who prepare for it!
Mason Throneburg, CEO & Co-Founder – Confluency
Confluency is a leading water startup that helps teams harness the full capabilities of simulation models through the integration of advanced data analytics, and deep insights of engineers and operators, to make better decisions. They collaborate with utilities and consulting firms to develop a clearer understanding of the water system and develop tailored strategies for utility digital transformation. Confluency sees an important gap in the digital water space, integrating insights from simulation models together with machine learning to support decisions across a range of timescales – operational, planning, and strategic. Confluency is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the SBIR program to develop AI solutions for water.
In working closely with utilities to integrate traditional modelling tools with analytics, how different have your approaches been based on where they are in their digital transformation journey?
Every utility is at a slightly different place in their digital transformation journey, responding to slightly different pressures and priorities – so we start by focusing on their desired outcomes and the technical capabilities and resources available. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to digital transformation. We specifically focus on value that comes from combining simulation-based models which provide “what-if” insights, together with data-driven machine learning models – but the customer needs to drive the technical approach, not vice versa. For instance, if it’s related to water distribution, the approach we take depends on the engineering models they are currently using, the data that is available, and their planning or operational goals. The utility’s digital transformation maturity and priorities also helps us determine how to help propel transformative solutions.
SWAN is all about collaboration. How do you partner with engineering firms and solution providers in delivering more holistic value to utility customers?
Confluency really values the importance of partnerships and collaboration. Being a small solution provider with an extensive consultancy background, we see how digital transformation transcends system boundaries and involves integrating people and expertise from different backgrounds. Our solutions embed various components like simulation, automation, analytics, sensors and metering, and engineering services, which naturally involves multiple stakeholders. Integrating these multiple perspectives and priorities is one of the biggest challenges – and we believe that better tools and at-a-glance insights can facilitate that alignment. One thing we emphasise is to not go for a one-and-done approach with our partners, but rather always look forward to collaborating beyond a single project or a process.
While working on operationalising a utility’s model, what are steps you take to account for the varying SCADA generations and compatibilities?
Yes, SCADA operations and accessibility are some areas that get tricky. One advantage of our hybrid simulation and data-driven approach is that we often begin to explore solution benefits in an offline context, where managing data privacy is important but security risks are reduced. This helps to establish a business-case and generate buy-in; we then incorporate real-time data to use the model to provide operational insight. Data from monitoring providers can often be accessed directly through their APIs. Accessing the SCADA data involves managing cybersecurity risk; we build security in at the base layer of our software – and we also reduce risk because our solution is advisory guidance, and so does require write-access to the system. This is also an area where partners with a deeper expertise with SCADA systems and network security can help with data acquisition and managing network security protocols.
As a solution provider, how would you address the counterargument that digital transformation is costly and runs people out of their jobs?
That is a question we come across often. Our belief is that software should augment the capabilities of engineers and operators, not replace them. The people who have worked with a system for 5, 10, 20 years have tremendous knowledge in their brains; we want to capture that knowledge in simulation and machine learning models to make it more systematically and broadly available. The great thing is, this then frees up time for the higher-value work that people are better at than machines. Regarding cost, we strongly believe that solutions need to be affordable – and that the costs need to make sense compared to the value provided. We are focused on developing a scalable platform that can be customised, enabling a utility to bring on additional functionality incrementally as the business case is established. In the medium to long term, improved operational efficiency and increased integration with planning objectives lead to improved system management and overall cost reductions.
Any words of advice for young professionals passionate about water and analytics on how they prepare themselves (ex. software development upskilling) to enter the workforce of solution providers like yourself?
The first piece of advice is to raise your hand and put your interests out there – I think all companies in the SWAN forum are looking for motivated talent to help deliver greater value from data, models, and automation. Once you know what you want, you may also need to invest in yourself. Go that extra mile to upskill, even if it requires some evenings or weekends – these skills will open up lots of opportunities for the rest of your career. I’d suggest young engineers spend time in the water workforce and master a particular technical domain (e.g. hydraulic modeling, treatment processes, etc.), so they really deeply understand the problems the industry is trying to solve. Lastly, look for opportunities to improve software development skills by participating in open-source projects, where you can obtain great feedback and further develop your network.
Carlos Tejedor, Instrumentation & Smart Metering Specialist – Idrica
With more than a decade of experience, Idrica is leading the way in digital transformation for the water industry. Idrica’s goal is to help water utilities navigate their digital journey, and unlock the potential from their distributed data. By providing services and technological solutions for the entire water cycle management, Idrica supports their clients in the areas of management, operations and maintenance, engineering, and consultancy.
Smart Metering has become an increasingly popular topic in the smart water sector. Why do you think it has gained popularity and what are some of the benefits it provides?
Many people view water as an unlimited and free resource, as something inexhaustible. In recent decades, there has been a paradigm shift where scarcity is increasingly present across the planet. All organisations and utilities are now aware of this serious problem, and many are interested in any mechanism that offers solutions. Traditional systems have reached their efficiency ceiling and it is in this scenario where technology is the best ally for innovation.
Specifically, in the field of micro-metering, there has been a conceptual change in the vision of meters, from being mere sensors to becoming an element that generates very valuable data-points and information. At Idrica, this has allowed us to develop new value-added services that bring significant benefits to our clients. They have enabled us to better analyse what we were already measuring, but also to develop new metrics.
- Tangible benefits: smart metering directly impacts water efficiency through the reduction of apparent or commercial losses, but we are now able to measure its cross-cutting impact on other business processes as well.
- Intangible benefits: some of the new algorithms allow us to offer tools for service improvement or to support vulnerable social groups.
The sum of all these benefits provides a more favourable ROI for our clients, fostering a growing interest within the whole sector. In short, we can now make better decisions to improve efficiency in water management.
How can utilities incorporate all these variables and new considerations into a Smart Metering strategy?
Digital transformation is no longer an option, it is a must. It is the only valid way to meet the increasingly demanding challenges of the industry. It is important to understand that a smart metering strategy is possible, and that it can be done.
At Idrica we are dedicated to help utilities assess their digital maturity level and to develop a digitisation strategy based on their needs. We work with water utilities in the design and implementation phases of smart metering systems and deploy agnostic digital platforms for their management and advanced algorithms. In Spain, we have already helped deploy and manage a fleet of more than 700,000 smart meters, under a single platform. We can achieve this by combining experience with the necessary tools and infrastructure.
What tools are needed to carry out this analysis?
It has always been clear to us that if data is not converted into information, it becomes useless. Approximately 90% of companies collect data from their sensors and business processes, but only 10% recognise that they use it to improve their decision-making. With this in mind, we have developed GoAigua, an agnostic platform capable of ingesting data from any source and in any format by running AI and ML based algorithms to transform data and information into business intelligence.
Idrica recently shared a case study on the deployment of 4,000 Smart Meters and the benefits driven by smart water decisions. Can you share how your partnership with the municipality of Gandia and with telecom company Vodafone enabled these results?
Our partnership with Gandía, the first smart city with NBIoT, is an example of Idrica’s commitment to cutting-edge technology. In fact, the first global communication test was done from one of our water meters. As part of the city’s digital transformation, we were able to detect 300 frauds each month, which resulted in savings of 5000m3 unbilled water in households. We have improved network efficiency by 35% with over 200 customer leaks reported each month. This also resulted in a 60% reduction in bill complaints over the past 5 years, indicating an improvement in customer satisfaction. From an operational standpoint, Idrica also saw 70% savings in system implementation costs or 15% energy savings in operation, and a 45% improvement in the efficiency of field equipment management. Achieving these milestones requires the commitment of all stakeholders and helps Idrica position itself as a leader in the industry.
How can organisations in the water sector attract young professionals to join these exciting digitalisation efforts?
As with water, the workforce paradigm is also evolving. Young professionals want to be part of projects with social commitment, with a collaborative internal strategy and in which they feel that their opinion counts. The digital transformation of the water sector meets all these requirements. This implies that it is possible to develop strategies for attracting and retaining talent.
We must offer goals and objectives that motivate their personal and professional development, where continuous learning and improvement are one of the main attractions. At Idrica we are aware of this and all our projects are based on our motto: Smart Water for a Better World.
Quinn Elliott-Jackson, Senior Director Business Development – Olea Edge Analytics
Your extensive career in the water industry spanned both the municipal and commercial sectors. Can you share how your professional development at the City of Atlanta helped shape your perspective working as a solution provider?
My experience with the City of Atlanta was very enriching because I had the opportunity to serve in many capacities. While collaboration across city departments was paramount, at times communication and information could be siloed. So, it became important to analyse data for interdependencies. The cornerstone of my professional development with the City of Atlanta was to listen, synthesise the information, and make good decisions for the city, employees, and customers. As I transitioned into the role of a solution provider, the same holds true as I work to meet the needs of the client and help resolve challenges and enhance the utility.
What is the value of partnerships in the water sector? Why is this important?
The water sector is faced with many challenges from infrastructure needs, resource constraints, to water scarcity all while making sure citizens have access to safe and affordable drinking water. This is no easy task and developing partnerships can help utilities innovate for the many issues faced daily. Think about the utilities that are partnering with local technical schools to train people to fill open positions; or perhaps a solutions provider partnering with an innovation team to bring new technology to the utility. The key is to build and develop the relationships that enable dialogue and confidence that most solid partnerships are built upon. The best scenario is where the utility and the solution provider are partnering to enhance outcomes for both the utility and its customers.
You joined Olea Edge in March 2020 at the start of the global pandemic. What are some industry trends that you have seen since you started in this new role?
Utilities had to pivot quickly and adapt to managing people, processes, and infrastructure remotely and in a more automated way. With uncertainty surrounding revenue stability given the pandemic, cities and utilities had to re-evaluate how they prioritised projects and initiatives. Initiatives such as smart cities and smart metering became even more important because of the need to leverage technology for several reasons. There also was an impact on the workforce in the water industry with people leaving roles for various reasons (illness, retirement, burnout, etc.). Solution providers have enabled utilities to mitigate some effects of the global pandemic. For example, Olea has been able to help utilities by continuously monitoring large meter assets and providing actionable data allowing utilities to make better decisions with constrained resources and have a mechanism to address revenue recovery.
What should a utility consider when starting a smart metering or meter accuracy program? Can you highlight the advantages and disadvantages?
The exciting thing is that the benefits of a “meter accuracy” solution will most likely extend far beyond accurate meter readings. For example, when there is data to verify that large, industrial meters are registering consumption accurately, customers have more trust in utilities and can also find ways to conserve water. In addition, when a utility’s largest consumers are accurately billed, we are seeing that they have more revenue to allocate to other programs or projects. There will be more ways to make utilities more resilient both financially and operationally. Like any other program or project, it’s important to know how to make a meter accuracy program work for specific utilities. For example, does a utility have more residential meters, how fast is your area growing, and is the area subject to drought or flooding, what type of meters do you have in your meter population? Extracting the most value from your program may mean integrating more than one solution, and prioritising based on your objectives and return on investment. Truly smart metering and/or meter accuracy programs are early in their development cycles. The good news is that utilities and city leaders can still work collaboratively with solution providers to solve issues that are at the top of their priority lists.
Finally, you have mentioned your interest in the water workforce development. What is your advice for young professionals hoping to start and grow their career in water?
Water is extremely valuable and is going to be the resource most affected by climate change. Careers in water are going to be critical to the quality of life for everyone. The water industry is very dynamic and can offer rewarding experiences. My advice for young professionals is to think about your interests and start applying for openings in the industry. There is such opportunity for movement and growth. The water industry has many paths to follow or cross into from plant operations, finance, customer service, to engineering. There are so many possibilities for career success in the industry and having mentors to help guide and grow your career is very important.
Kelvin Hurdle, Industry Manager Water/WW – Rockwell Automation
Rockwell Automation is a Global Leader in Industrial Automation with an overall mission is to improve the quality of life by making the world more productive and sustainable. Rockwell integrates control and information in a way that brings the Connected Enterprise to everyday Life. One of the industries that Rockwell is focused on is the Water/Wastewater industry. In line with the overall company theme of Connected Enterprise, they look to provide smart water solutions that accelerate the digital transformation of utilities and help them become integrated into connected, smart cities to support the sustainable use of water.
What drives the need for smart, data-driven initiatives in the water and wastewater markets?
There are many factors driving digital transformation in public water utilities. Those include population growth and movement that is adding pressure to meet increasing demand with existing assets; changing weather patterns and climate that is testing the resiliency of water systems; increased regulation making it challenging to monitor and meet reporting requirements in a timely manner; ageing infrastructure – the expected longevity for equipment operating in water and wastewater treatment plants is 10-20 years, and many of those systems are approaching end of life; and finally, the loss of institutional knowledge as nearly 1/3 of American water utility employees will be eligible to retire (as reported by the US EPA).
Many of these same issues are driving digital initiatives in private and industrial water and wastewater treatment providers, but their motivation is also driven out of necessity to increase operational efficiency and profitability.
What’s interesting is we see accelerated investments across hardware, software, and services, with software seeing the most dramatic increase. Many utility services including customer service, maintenance, and operations are supported by offerings that are delivered using SaaS models versus capital expenses, which also shift the annual budgets which were traditionally heavy with large capital investments but are now moving towards more balanced capital & operational expense budgets.
As the IoT proliferates into industrial environments, including public utilities like water and energy, cyberthreats are a major concern. Why should water utilities take cyberthreats seriously?
Cyberthreats are a global concern and not an exclusive issue for W/WW, but here in the US we’ve recently seen critical infrastructure, including water come under attack from cyber threats. A recent example is the February 2021 Oldsmar, Florida water treatment cyberattack. As assets in the utility plant become connected, digital assets, it is imperative they are protected.
For water utilities there is threat for legacy systems, unpatched infrastructure, and a lack of skilled resources to properly manage cyber risk. The adversaries know these environments have many vulnerabilities and if attacked this can mean major consequences.
Rockwell has responded to these threats by offering Network services and aligning ourselves with strategic technology partnerships with industry leaders such as Claroty and SWAN Member Cisco to offer solutions to customers that provide a proactive approach to cybersecurity that goes beyond waiting to be the next company to be the victim of a cybersecurity attack.
Rockwell Automation is active in an array of projects and cross-sectoral industries. How is Rockwell addressing sustainability?
We believe sustainability should be focused on three things – a sustainable company, sustainable customers, and sustainable communities. We refer to this as our Net Zero vision. Our path to achieving this is by helping accelerate decarbonisation, digitisation and electrification for future generations.
In the focus area of customer sustainability, we are working with our customers to reduce energy, water, and materials usage. Two examples are increasing water reuse and material recycling.
As the water industry adopts new technologies to make operations smarter, what key areas and skills do you recommend for young professionals to develop and learn?
With the increased amounts of data being produced from intelligent devices, there is a shift in the need for young professionals to be able to make sense of all the data and to utilise it. There will be value in enabling the use of real-time, contextualised data for improved ability to predict, detect, and respond to system upsets. We will all benefit from young professionals acting as “citizen data scientists” that can also specialise in security.
Young professionals can also gain value from participating in the SWAN Forum’s activities, such as Tara Norton, W/WW Industry Program Manager at Rockwell who is active in the SWAN Americas Alliance and is obtaining access to the professionals developing the technology that is being leveraged to realise smarter, more secure, and more sustainable water infrastructure.
Devin Doring, Technical Services Supervisor – City of Salem, OR
The City of Salem, Oregon is located in the Pacific Northwest of the US. As a public entity, the City is responsible for drinking water, flooding, stormwater, and wastewater treatment, while embarking on a smart water journey. As one of the newest SWAN utility Members, our SWAN Americas Alliance Intern Nishanth Senthilkumar (Staff Engineer – Water Operations at HR Green, Inc.) interviewed Devin about the digitisation of the water sector.
The City of Salem, Oregon has notably leveraged machine learning and artificial intelligence to successfully predict algae blooms. How have operators responded to/appreciated such predictive analytics tools?
The operators collectively felt that the aspect of AI/ML was a neat science experiment, but they were not sure how it applies to them. Humans in general don’t like to put their trust into something that they don’t understand. Since AI/ML are indeed ‘Black Box’ approaches to problem solving, there is a huge emphasis to make the algorithms more transparent for operators to comprehend. This is almost more challenging than the aspect of implementing smart solutions itself.
Further, as an organisation, The City of Salem, Oregon is evolving and learning to incorporate predictive analytical tools in our operations. As such, we are a typical organisation on the operational, managerial, and philosophical front. We are in the process of deploying smart water technologies to improve our operations, and rolling them up into a decision framework is a long road ahead. Setting up the system and making the algorithm work is really the first step. It will probably be a theme of our careers – how we implement intense data analytics into operations, analogous to how it took decades to incorporate internet into organisations.
What are the challenges that you faced with the quality of data or suitability of technology for adopting smart water systems?
The challenges we faced during implementation of smart water systems were really practical. It is often issues such as data quality and data communication that challenge us. Algorithms and the technology are secondary compared to the practicality of getting the data back from the field. For instance, with remote monitoring you’re pretty much left to depend on satellite networks or you might be in regions where you depend on batteries. There is only so much infrastructure, and getting the data back from the field to implement analytics is the harder part. These are challenges we are up for, and we will keep working on it. The technologies will improve with time.
How crucial is the capability/upgrade of SCADA systems to handle the level of integration and interoperability associated with smart water technology?
I’d say SCADA systems are a very critical part of smart water systems. Folks that operate SCADA systems are concerned about the security, and no one wants to run science experiments on things that control the infrastructure. We implemented the PI system, a product of OSIsoft (now AVEVA), a long-time SWAN Member, and it really empowered us to pull data from multiple systems and put them into a single cohesive database. You’re going to struggle if you don’t have a single source of truth, or a single database. Trying to build analytics on top of three or four different systems would require cumbersome and siloed data transfers.
Can you discuss a few recent internal efforts and lessons learned on predicting cyanotoxins in water which is a work in progress unlike algal bloom prediction?
Even though we have been able to predict algal blooms to a good extent, we haven’t been able to crack really well the cyanotoxin aspect of it yet. We’re putting in detectors, and it is a journey trying to understand the complex science of cyanotoxin release. Further, in talking to researchers and mathematical modelers, we realised that there isn’t going to be one model that could address this completely. When you are trying to predict something as complex as nature, it is probably unlikely that you are going to find any model that fits perfectly.
Something new we applied is that we currently have thousands of different models and they are all essentially grouped together by means of a Bayesian model averaging framework. From very simple linear regressions to complex neural networks, the Bayesian average model looks at the cohesive result of all of them and selects the best predictions. Until we make some giant leaps in quantum computing, there is going to be a limit to how well AI/ML effectively handles highly complicated systems. I hope to see it within our times.
There are new ways of approaching problem solving in the water sector, including the emergence of new management and procurement models. Can you touch on how much of your smart water projects rely on external consultants/contractors versus in-house capacity?
We believe in finding an optimal balance between projects running on specific timeframes and more long-term oriented programs. As a public entity, we do need to be careful and ensure that funds are being utilised efficiently regardless of any proposed smart water project. We value our hard working staff and constantly explore ways to recognise those successful in project delivery and implementation, including offering performance-based mobility and training/upskilling opportunities. We do recognise that certain projects do require outside help, especially when the private sector has amassed unique expertise in a specific area relevant to our work.
Lastly, with the increasing digitisation of the water sector, what do you see is the role of young professionals in this shift? What advice do you have for rising water engineers such as myself to supplement our engineering skill sets to be best prepared to accelerate in the smart water sector?
Obviously, there is huge role for the younger generation in carrying forward this transition to digital water systems. The aspect of data analytics isn’t a buzzword anymore – it is a natural progression of where technology is going, and we are going to need people in the workforce that understand the technology and can apply it.
The hardest aspect for young professionals is making the leap from school into the workforce, where things get very practical. They find themselves often dealing with lots of irrelevant data, budgetary restrictions, and most challenging, people who are doubtful or skeptical of technologies and innovative approaches. While having strong technical knowledge is a solid foundation, interpersonal and communication skills are going to ultimately lead you to success and continued professional growth. Further, a healthy dose of curiosity and willingness to experiment (involves making mistakes in the process) is definitely helpful and a way to challenge yourself.
Josh Cantone, CEO – Optimatics
The US is often called out on its ageing infrastructure, and many times receives poor scoring (e.g., the ASCE report card). As investments are directed toward rebuilding American infrastructure, why is it important to prioritise smart, data-driven solutions for water and wastewater utilities?
Put simply, the US can’t afford to replace its ageing infrastructure with the same antiquated methods. US utilities face an unparalleled challenge to balance affordability, equitability and level of service. Traditional approaches to planning and prioritising the renewal of assets rely primarily on engineering judgement and manual trial and error. If utilities want to manage multiple objectives, be more transparent in their approach to planning, and ensure they are getting the best value for every dollar invested they will need to utilise smarter, data-driven approaches. Such approaches leverage the latest computing power, artificial intelligence, and allow engineers to leverage their judgement to develop more efficient and cost-effective strategies.
Optimatics’ project with SWAN utility Member, WSSC was a 2021 recipient of the Smart 50 Awards honouring the 50 most transformative smart projects each year. What are the top 3 trends you feel that utilities should be paying attention to with regard to embracing innovation within the industry?
WSSC has a unique approach to embracing innovation, investing each year in piloting new technologies (through business cases) that solve problems they identified within their utility. This provides an opportunity to engage with innovators and to assess the costs and benefits of the technology. There are many new technologies evolving in the water and wastewater industry and utilities need to create mechanisms for procuring and sourcing new innovations. The problem facing WSSC was not a unique one: How to efficiently package their water main replacement program? The difficulty, however, is having to balance community impact, costs, level of service, and risk. Utilities are being asked to solve more complex problems that are non-linear and require multiple objectives to be balanced. It is clear that utilities face greater scrutiny over their decisions from their stakeholders, being transparent about their decision-making approaches are going to be paramount for them moving forward.
Optimatics is part of the Suez family and has a formal partnership with SWAN Member, ESRI. What is the value of partnerships for Optimatics in the smart water ecosystem?
Partnerships have been a key part of the evolution of Optimatics in the industry. Most importantly, new technology companies need partners to help them validate and test their innovation. Suez has been a great partner in allowing Optimatics to test new use cases within their business units and operations across the world. This has paved the way to ensure Optimizer is well tested and ready for use by other utilities. It is also important to help utilities understand how they can integrate technologies from multiple vendors in a way that is efficient and without duplicating effort. Our partnership with ESRI has allowed us to provide a seamless way for mapping and presenting results from Optimizer, which ensures utilities are able to leverage the investments already made in their ESRI software. Finally, these partnerships provide a mechanism for spreading the word about new innovations. Established companies have large customer bases that can connect new companies with utilities without the need for significant investment in sales resources.
Can you describe how Optimatics collaborates with universities and taps into academic research for commercial outcomes?
Optimatics has a long history of working with universities, having originated from a PhD project by one of our employees Laurie Murphy at the University of Adelaide in Australia. We continue to maintain relationships with the University of Adelaide, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and others in the UK and Europe. Some of that collaboration involves helping to educate and train engineers on optimisation and commercial applications in the water industry and opportunities for collaborative research. By maintaining relationships with these universities, Optimatics is able to build on the research and make it commercially viable and available to the utility engineering community.
Young professionals are growing up in the digital age, but the water and wastewater sectors don’t always stand out as obvious career choices. How can we engage more young professionals to join the water workforce?
Young professionals are going to be a key part of the evolution of the water industry and how utilities embrace digital transformation. Most importantly, I believe the industry needs to show it is willing to adopt and invest in new innovative technologies. There are still many barriers to innovation in the water industry, one being a risk aversion to change. If consultants and utilities continue to block or avoid innovation, young engineers are going to choose career paths in other industries where they can leverage the latest technologies and learnings from university. The other thing we can do is to highlight the importance of the water and wastewater sectors and the vital resource we provide and protect. Young engineers certainly want to be empowered and feel like they are making a difference.
Aditya Ramamurthy, Director-Utility Management – Kennedy Jenks
Kennedy Jenks embraces water and everything that water makes possible. The 102-year-old firm is a leader in water and wastewater for public and industrial clients, and its 400 employees seek out agile technologies and alliances to promote the industry into the future. Originally a design engineering firm, Kennedy Jenks now offers alternative delivery approaches such as design-build, construction management, and is a key proponent of utility management services.
Can you describe the Kennedy Jenks’ Utility Management Approach and its significance for water utilities?
The digital space is moving at a revolutionary pace. Water agencies can be the primary beneficiaries of this exciting digital transformation that can optimise performance and reduce costs. We have developed a “people-technology-process-data” centric utility management approach that works to integrate the utilities’ assets and data management from end-to-end, enabling our clients to manage the operations of all their organisational functions in an effective manner. Additionally, with active utility engagement, participation, and ownership from the get-go, our clients are able to establish and drive an effective, agile, scalable, and sustainable utility management programme.
Kennedy Jenks joined the SWAN Forum and quickly got involved with the Americas Alliance. What has your experience been collaborating with regional and global smart water leaders?
Joining the SWAN Forum gives us an opportunity to actively participate and contribute to the water industry. We want to get our staff involved in smart water developments and innovation and to learn what others are doing on the digital front. This creates an opportunity to engage with like-minded individuals on pioneering projects and ideas.
With SWAN, there is also the international front, so we can hear about fresh perspectives, challenges, and lessons learned on a global scale. This type of active learning helps us develop well rounded innovative solutions for our clients.
Recently, members of our team led the development of dynamic performance reporting dashboards (to democratise survey results) that are part of the “Value of Smart Water during a Crisis” America’s Alliance report that provides SWAN members an overview of current utility digital trends as a result of the pandemic.
Kennedy Jenks operates several Communities of Practice. What is the value of these internal initiatives?
Communities of Practice (CoP) achieve several purposes, but the ultimate goal is to bring people and ideas together in a collaborative manner to achieve a greater purpose. In many organisations, CoP are gatherings of Subject Matter Experts without any inherent succession planning built in. In our CoP, experts from all different levels can join these forums to advance knowledge around specific topics or challenges. Any employee can request more information and get an almost immediate response and relevant contact for additional information. Kennedy Jenks’ CoP’s are designed for technical agility to solve complex client problems as well as an opportunity for our staff to actively learn and progress in their careers and get trained as the next generation of water leaders.
What is your advice for young professionals interested in joining the smart water sector?
Be a life-long learner with an “infinite mindset”. Engage, Ideate, Participate, and Learn from everyone around you. You got to where you are because of your education and qualifications, but the industry is evolving and there will always be new perspectives on our approaches. The challenges never remain the same and as an industry, we need to be prepared and position ourselves for creative problem solving. It is great to see really sharp and motivated young professionals entering our industry each year who are eager to make an impact within their own organisations as well as their respective communities.
You may view the publicly available visual dashboard created by Kennedy Jenks for the Global Utility Report HERE.
Ainhoa Lete, CoFounder & CEO – BuntPlanet
BuntPlanet was founded in 2000 with the idea of offering software engineering services to leading technology companies. Our first client was Siemens in Germany. Our goal is to use software to improve the planet. In 2007, we entered the water sector and now our challenge is to reduce water losses in the world. We love challenges and projects that push us to the limits of software possibilities.
What inspired BuntPlanet to pivot from a technological services company to focus on the water sector?
Innovation is at the core of BuntPlanet’s DNA and our aim has always been to make a positive impact in the world by applying technology solutions. In 2007 we took our first custom software project into the water sector, for a highly innovative water utility located in our region.
We witnessed the early adoption of the first smart metering systems and implemented the first cloud solutions that were required to manage huge amounts of data generated by AMI technology. The concept of ‘Big Data’ was emerging and the potential of these large volumes of data gradually became apparent. We were inspired by the needs and the vision of this advanced water utility, and some years later, we decided to apply our software knowledge to address water losses.
We offer a SaaS solution based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and hydraulic simulation, which led to the birth of BuntBrain. We were also the first company in the world to successfully implement a virtual DMA – a new concept for detecting and pre-locating any anomaly in the water network.
Can you give insight into the relationship between Industry 4.0 and climate change?
Digitalisation in general and AI, in particular, will be keys to solving major challenges the world is already facing and will continue to face in the next decade. The increasingly extreme weather conditions due to climate change will lead to more frequent droughts and flooding. We can no longer afford to waste our planet’s precious resources of freshwater.
Sophisticated algorithms can enhance human capabilities to make faster and better decisions. Industry 4.0 – Big Data technology, hydraulic simulation and the deployment of AI – will enable us to better manage water resources, by avoiding water losses and minimising the impact of flooding events.
We read about BuntPlanet’s partnership with Siemens to tackle water loss. What is the goal of this collaboration? And what do you want utilities to know about water losses?
It is an honour to collaborate with Siemens, one of the most innovative companies in the world, and which has a global presence and vast marketing capabilities. Through this partnership, we are much better positioned to rapidly roll out our software than we would have been able to do on our own. One important advantage for us is that Siemens is already educating utilities about the value of the data generated by the devices installed within the water utility’s network and how to use this data to improve their network management (e.g. such as flow meters, pressure sensors, and customer meters). Our software uses the information collected from these devices to reduce both ‘apparent losses’ (water which is used but not paid for, due perhaps to a faulty meter) and ‘real losses’ such as leakages.
We want utilities to understand that the best practice is to detect water leaks at an early stage – this can help avoid small leaks which might turn into a large leak and ultimately to a burst pipe – which is costly to repair and can cause further disruptions in the water network. In partnership with Siemens, it is easier to convince a water utility to take a holistic, ‘big picture’ approach to manage their water network and to address water losses as part of the overall management of the water network.
As an AI software company, what skills and experiences do you recommend for young professionals eager to join the water sector?
The water industry is about more than just algorithms. Young professionals entering the water industry need a range of skills in order to apply new technologies such as AI to real-life scenarios. At BuntPlanet, it is also important that our young professionals are enthusiastic and love what they do. If they care about the future of the world then we provide them with a work environment where they can use technology to improve the planet!
Raasheed Pakwashi, Technical Director – SME Water
We spoke with Raasheed Pakwashi about the growth of SME Water, their experience in the UK water industry, and being a finalist with the United Utilities’ Innovation Lab. SME Water is a start-up that specialises in clean water pressure and hydraulic modelling, using contemporary analysis and data science techniques to deliver complex projects. The team use their extensive subject knowledge of water network behaviour and engineering insights to ensure projects deliver tangible and sustainable benefits.
As a fast-growing start-up, what challenges is SME Water working to solve in the UK water space?
Since being founded in 2018, we have been working in an extremely exciting space in the water industry. Combining our extensive subject knowledge of water distribution network management with modern analysis and data science techniques, we have been helping a number of UK water companies reduce their leakage.
In recent years, there has been a real push into understanding how acoustic sensors can be used to effectively locate leaks. However, acoustic devices are not suitable for all types of networks. This is one of the reasons we’ve been doing some extensive work using pressure sensors; understanding how they too can become part of the leakage technician’s toolkit. Dynamo, our event recognition tool, uses pressure data to highlight changes in flow on the network, which enables us to locate bursts faster. One of the key advantages of pressure logging over acoustic logging, is that it can be combined with other data sources, including hydraulic models, to help identify, investigate, and resolve network and demand anomalies.
Given the challenges presented by the pandemic, how has SME Water adapted to working from home?
Striking the balance between office and home working has always been an interesting debate. However, the pandemic presented us with the opportunity to explore the realms of remote working.
One of the things I have truly learnt to appreciate is how unique everyone’s individual circumstances are, which is easy to lose sight of when working in the office day in, day out. As a small company, we found the transition to working from home pretty seamless, our employees adapted well, and their work was unaffected. Even so, ‘the new norm’ did pose some challenges for us, as our office was a place for us to collaborate and generate new ideas. That being said, it gave us the perfect opportunity to adopt new tools and solutions. The Miro whiteboard is our new favourite!
Something else that we have found extremely effective is, what we call, our ‘temperature check’. At the start of team meetings, each employee will score their ‘temperature’ out of 10. Employees are encouraged to give some commentary to explain their number. It doesn’t need to be work related or accurate, it’s all relative. It’s an opportunity for our employees to raise concerns, or to perhaps share and celebrate something that has gone well for them that week. We have been doing it for around six months now, and I feel as though we have created a real setting for employees to openly talk about how they are feeling.
SME Water was recently accepted to the United Utilities Innovation Lab. Can you tell us more about this exciting opportunity?
We are really excited to be part of United Utilities’ Innovation Lab. We’re using both statistical and machine learning techniques, in the form of our Component Demand Analysis Model (CDAM), to explore and understand how customer demand varies throughout the year. We have already delivered some great insights with United Utilities, investigating variations in consumption brought about by Ramadan and school holidays. These form the first two components of our model.
As our analysis continues, we will begin to investigate the effects of university student migration and the impact of lockdown as a result of COVID-19. Each of these factors will become an additional component of our model. When analysing individual District Metered Areas (DMAs), we’ll stack components on top of one another to see the combined effect on customer demand and reported leakage.
In a time when water companies are progressively trying to reduce their leakage, the ability to confidently differentiate leakage from changes in customer demand offers significant benefit. This insight will allow leakage teams to locate and target leaks much faster, thereby reducing lost water and the impact on the customer.
Why should young professionals choose a career in the water industry?
There is no better time for young professionals to join the water industry! If you want to work within an industry that faces infinite challenges and uncertainties, and where innovation and collaboration are key, then look no further.
There is considerable scope for fresh ideas and solutions globally within the industry, and this isn’t likely to change any time soon.
Meena Sankaran, Founder & CEO – KETOS Inc.
KETOS, Inc is a start-up delivering integrated, cloud-based, IoT solutions for actionable water intelligence through hardware, secure connectivity, and a robust software fabric. Founder & CEO Meena Sankaran talks to us about the recent Newark lead crisis, industry trends, and more.
As one of the newest SWAN Members, can you share how KETOS supports its customers with its water intelligence platform?
At KETOS, we believe that empowering operators with mission-critical water data can transform their businesses. Our solution is a unique intersection of smart connected networks, data analytics (predictive intelligence with actionable insights), and water sensing technology (innovative hardware for real-time water monitoring). Users will receive state-of-the-art continuous water quality warnings and predictive analytics of heavy metal toxins, inorganics, and several environmental parameters in a single modular system at lab-precision levels of accuracy and reliability. While the hardware incorporates proprietary patented methods of sensing and automation, the software platform has several innovations to bring the capability of data analytics and the strength of technology to the world of water.
News has recently emerged regarding lead contamination in the Newark water crisis. How can cities use water metrics to prevent similar situations?
Municipalities now can have advanced diagnostics on any lead contamination anomalies before they escalate to liability, provision of bottled water and a city-wide scare on public-health. For example, the KETOS Shield system is one of the first in the industry to provide lab-precision data within EPA-desired sensitivity on an automated basis without the need for manual intervention for 20+ parameters, all within a single system. This solution can be installed strategically across an entire city grid including water treatment plants in order to understand the deterioration of water quality through the distribution cycle. It can also provide operators clear insights of where possible infrastructure issues are occurring such as pipeline corrosion. This allows for for proactive pipe repairs through location-mapped data.
What trends in the smart water industry are you most excited about?
The Internet of Water is here. KETOS has entered the water industry at an inflection point where water operators and businesses are going through a transition and reflection of technological automation, optimisation and adoption across several tiers. We have built a dynamic predictive modeler that not only takes into account all publicly available static data but also the real-time millions of data points. This flow of data allows for potential correlation with seasonality, man-made contamination sources and more opportunities into the future.
Hardware is a means to generating data and the unique capability of detecting, collecting, analysing and presenting heavy metal toxins in real-time is a great start for us. Treatment and storage solutions are great but knowing what’s in our water, in a scalable automated way might be the next step in building a cohesive solution for a smarter, sustainable and safer future.
What advice do you have for young professionals trying to elevate their careers in the water industry?
As a society, we need to increase awareness and optimise overall water availability for future generations. Continuous water quality monitoring now allows for water recycling and enabling water reuse on a larger scale.
KETOS was built in a data-centric world- this allowed an interdisciplinary collaboration of material scientists, physicists, chemists, electromechanical engineers, robotic engineers, data scientists, cloud architects and IoT engineers to enter into the world of water and work on a combined hardware and software solution.
Water is a complex yet quintessential resource, so the need for young professionals to be creative and adaptive of how they apply learning and innovation from other verticals, segments and markets is very important to how we preserve and enhance this resource while uplifting this industry into technological progress.
Pete Diffley, Senior Manager Global Partnerships – VTScada by Trihedral
We caught up with Pete Diffley to learn more about Trihedral, gain some automation industry perspective, and discuss some recent project successes. Trihedral Engineering Limited was founded in 1986 with the goal of creating the world’s most capable, reliable HMI and SCADA software. For 35 years, VTScada has served as Trihedral’s sole software product.
The theme of VTScada’s Roundtable session at the recent AWWA/SWAN Smart Water Symposium was “The cost of failure – Why Mission-Critical should be your mission.” Can you share some of the key takeaways?
We used the analogy of a sinkhole to explain that often utilities may be on the verge of a catastrophic control system failure, while everything looks pretty normal from above the surface leading to much larger costs than ever expected. This is mostly due to three areas; system architecture, cybersecurity, and the cost and complexity of recovery. Utilities can often think they have created a resilient system that can deal with all eventualities but the gaps are often masked by complexity. Our key recommendations are to look for unified system architecture, as the more unified a system is, the more tested it is by others globally, not just by the utility itself. Regarding cybersecurity, there is always a ‘first time’. Many times the approach is to only concentrate on keeping threats out. Our thought is to assume the hackers are in and look for the impact that would cause. Finally, systems that require manual data synchronisation or other such data recovery procedures often cost utilities a significant amount of time, money, and other resources to recover data. Manual entry of data might even be required that also increases the error factor, resulting in future decision-making mistakes.
VTScada was recently acquired by Delta Electronics. Can you share how this has influenced your strategic goals?
Delta Electronics initially approached our company regarding a global partnership to help continue to grow their business in the control system market. Most people wouldn’t realise that Delta is one of the largest manufacturers globally of power supplies, VFDs, and many other control system components. The company’s products are used by the leading brand-names of the electronics electrical /tech world. The chances are that the device you are reading this article on uses significant components from Delta. This has expanded the VTScada universe. The company examined the architecture of our product versus other leading SCADA / IIoT software and concluded that we should be the leading software platform for the company.
Our vision is to increase significantly, our market share in the control system world through our relationship. Trihedral and VTScada continue as is, both as a company and brand but now with the strength of a large entity to help us achieve this goal.
VTScada is now undertaking one of the largest ever SCADA treatment plant installations in Houston. Can you explain why this project is significant?
This is currently one of the largest active capital water projects in the US, at a cost of, US$1.4 billion. After over a year of evaluation by the City of Houston consultant, in collaboration with the Houston Waterworks Team, a joint venture between CDM Smith and Jacobs Engineering (formerly CH2M), two of the largest consultants in North America, we were awarded the contract. Considering we were up against other leading names in the SCADA / controls industry, it has been a great endorsement of the power, reliability, and flexibility of VTScada. This is a large, complex project involving the expansion of Houston’s water treatment facilities, to help meet the growing drinking water demands for what is the fourth largest city in the US. The utility is expanding the Northeast Water Purification Plant (NEWPP) from 80 MGD to 400 MGD. When completed, it will occupy 90-acres and include twin 108” diameter water mains.
The SCADA system architecture is quite complex but thankfully is something well within the scope of VTScada, connecting with 200 PLCs, and will feature quad redundant, load-balanced IO servers, quad redundant alarm notification system, and fully replicated, real-time synchronised historians. Most SCADA systems struggle to have primary and backup type redundancy. This project has four levels. Other projects we have completed have had even more. The project has begun and the expanded system is scheduled for completion in 2024.
What motivated VTScada to join SWAN and get involved in the SWAN Americas Alliance?
I came to know SWAN in its earliest years when I worked for Xylem. I felt that smart water was something we should embrace so encouraged our head of strategy to sign us up as a partner. I was honored to be asked to join the team at Trihedral at the very end of 2019, so becoming a partner of SWAN was an instant thought, considering how much of the company’s market is in smart water! The team has a huge amount to bring to the water industry but has largely remained out of the spotlight, quietly winning large products such as Houston to name but one. I think there is a misconception about SCADA that it is somehow old news or old technology. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Terms such as IoT/IIoT/Digital Water/Digital Transformation have stolen the spotlight in some ways but most people forget that the SCADA industry embraced this decades ago. Time moves on, and so does SCADA with it or even ahead of it. My approach within SWAN has been to help utilities better understand the available technologies, being very open to all-new levels of technology and thinking but also providing some guidance on what may be ‘snake oil’ offerings so that everyone gets the best results possible. Anyone can say that they can monitor and control water infrastructure using technology. The question is, can they do it, 100% of the time, safely and securely? Water is a critical component, essential to life. We can’t afford to make a mistake. Just look at the headlines.
As the workforce is rapidly changing, what is your advice for young professionals hoping to build a career in the smart water sector?
Smart water is an amazing career opportunity to be involved in. Many things in life are nice to have but not essential to have. Being part of a community that keeps the world alive is quite emotionally fulfilling. There are lots of opportunities out there in water (especially in the controls sector). I heard a great term recently.. the “silver tsunami” – that wave that is passing over the water industry as the experience is carried but sometimes lost as the age of the water workforce gets steadily more mature. Young professionals are an essential part of the renewal process. Both young and old thinking, collaborating on what is a critical component of our future brings with it fantastic and exciting opportunities. I would highly recommend considering it.
Mahesh Lunani, Founder & CEO – Aquasight
The Aquasight solution taps into 100’s of sensors already installed in the water and wastewater network and provides real-time efficient pumping energy management, resident leak detection, water loss auditing and accounting, future water quality predictions, determining infiltration and inflows in the sewer collection network, forecasting incoming flows and wastewater characteristics, identifying real-time recipe to treat wastewater, conducting sewage surveillance to provide early warning and neighbourhood hotspots for infectious diseases (e.g. COVID-19) and finally real-time asset health monitoring and warning.
How can water utilities tap into their existing resources to empower their workforce and achieve operational efficiency?
Water is a stressed sector. Different parts of the world face different challenges and hence solutions may vary. There is, however, one underlying commonality, that utilities want to do more with less by figuring out how to tap into existing resources and maximise their use. This area is precisely our focus by tapping into internal or external data resources, often in real-time, to empower the workforce and achieve efficiency (i.e., by reducing rates) and minimise risks (i.e., creating a clean environment). This helps the utility workforce efficiently run their operations, use less energy, chemicals and manpower, act on anomalies, and set up predictive maintenance by leveraging the very data that they already generate. Our algorithms and technology are smart enough to handle any level of complexity and variations of utilities. The shared platform we have across utilities ensures that the value utilities generate over time increases disproportionately.
Aquasight uses Artificial Intelligence to integrate datasets. What are the main benefits a utility should expect when merging datasets?
We are able to combine data from collection system pump stations and sewer shed flows with ocean levels and rain to estimate real-time I&I. We can compare the data against previous datasets to track improvements over time, but also to understand the sewer shed behaviours in real-time. To identify water loss, we merge real-time supply and consumption meters to detect leaks in residential homes. In the case of sewage surveillance, we are able to intelligently merge lab data on COVID-19 with sewer shed flows, travel time, temperature, and the population to estimate minimum peak shedders and provide early warning of one week in advance on the spread of COVID-19. These are some of the solutions Aquasight deployed and implemented that customers are using successfully.
What are some unique water challenges Aquasight discovered about US utilities and what do you think US utilities should learn from the global water sector?
Within the US, water challenges are both regional and nationwide. Challenges include declining revenues in the rust belt, ageing infrastructure in the Northeast, water quality issues in South, water shortages on the West Coast, fragmentation of utilities and the cost of water. It is extremely difficult to transplant from other countries- policy or structure or pricing solutions since they are driven by local politics. However, the supply chain is global, so one can adopt and pick-up point solutions, such as treatment, or desalination or smart water systems or sensor technology. I believe that is where the opportunities exist.
Young professionals are growing up in the digital age, but the water and wastewater sectors don’t always stand out as obvious career choices. How can we engage more young professionals to join the water workforce?
I talk about this with my guests in the 21st Century Water podcast. The water sector does not rank among the top sectors that college graduates want to work for (unless of course, you are an environmental or civil engineer). We need to improve the skill mix of people who are joining the sector. It will be impossible to innovate if everyone thinks the same way or is cut from the same cloth. The key to attracting this new skill mix is to understand why the sector is not attractive. Is it because it is a public sector? Is it a willingness to change careers or the trajectory of change? Is it salaries and compensation? Is it a career path and growth? We need to understand the reasons so we can plan for the changing workforce. With that said, I can tell you that utility CEOs are thinking about this and are coming up with their own programs in their local communities. I have spent time in other industries and think more can be done in the water sector. It is a whitespace and an opportunity.
Chung-leung Wong, Director of Water Supplies – Water Supplies Department
The Water Supplies Department (WSD) has the mission of providing safe, adequate and reliable water supply to Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan city with a population of approximately 7.5 million. WSD is taking forward several major initiatives on drinking water safety in particular in enhancing monitoring and control of internal plumbing systems; water security to cope with the impact of climate change by developing new water resources of seawater desalination and recycled water; water conservation through implementation of education and publicity programmes, and water loss management; and supply system reliability through asset management.
Can you share some of the main challenges with regards to water supply in Hong Kong?
The water supply networks in Hong Kong comprise more than 8,000 kilometres (km) of water mains. However, due to Hong Kong’s hilly terrain and with many developments at high altitude, the operating pressure in the water supply networks is generally higher than those of other cities in order to maintain adequate pressure for premises at high grounds. In addition, the water supply networks in Hong Kong are mostly underground and in densely populated areas, with congested underground utilities, busy traffic and frequent roadworks causing vibration and disturbance to the water mains. These factors create a higher risk for bursting water mains and leakages in the water supply networks.
WSD has spared no effort in replacing and rehabilitating nearly 3,000 km of aged water mains from 2000 to 2015. This has improved the condition of the water supply networks significantly, evidenced by substantial reductions of water main bursts from about 2,500 to 40 bursts between 2000 and 2019, and a reduction in the leakage rate of freshwater mains from 25% to 15% over the same period.
Moving ahead, WSD is implementing the Water Intelligent Network, also referred to as WIN. This involves the establishment of over 2,000 District Metering Areas (DMAs) to cover the whole freshwater supply distribution network as well as installing an Intelligent Network Management System (INMS) to monitor the water loss in the DMAs. This will also help determine the priorities and the most effective measures to tackle water loss in individual DMAs, including active leakage detection and control; water pressure management; quality and speedy repair of water mains bursts and leaks; and reprovisioning of water mains beyond economical repair.
WSD is also adopting international best practices for water main asset management and for maintaining the healthiness of mains in the water supply networks through a risk-based approach.
What motivated Hong Kong WSD to join SWAN and get involved in the SWAN Asia-Pacific (APAC) Alliance?
In taking forward the various initiatives mentioned above, WSD endeavours to adopt the latest technologies and smart solutions which would enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of these initiatives. By joining SWAN, WSD can share and exchange experience and knowledge with water professionals from leading water utilities, solution providers, research institutes, academics and regulators from around the world to tackle the various water challenges faced by the global water industry.
How does smart water fit into Hong Kong’s “Smart City Blueprint”? And what smart water innovations is WSD most interested in and why?
The Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint covers six major areas, including the “Smart Environment” which encompasses the various smart water initiatives being pursued by WSD, such as WIN and INMS as mentioned above. WSD is also developing a smart water model for new development areas, incorporating various smart water initiatives, such as online water quality monitoring, real-time flow and pressure monitoring, smart pressure management, automatic meter reading, WIN, and more.
Moreover, WSD is interested and exploring the development of digital twins for water supply networks which we envisage will offer huge benefits in all stages of the life cycle of the water mains including their operation, water loss management, asset management, etc.
Can you share advice for young professionals hoping to start their career in the water sector?
In a time of unprecedented technological advancement, it is particularly crucial for young professionals who wish to develop their career in the water sector to keep abreast of and embrace the adoption of technologies in their work. In addition, they should have a global vision of the latest developments and challenges in the water sector worldwide by making good use of the support networks such as the Rising Smart Water Professionals established by SWAN.