Click a photo below to jump to that interview.
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.