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Wagner Oliveira de Carvalho, Digital Twin Manager – AEGEA
AEGEA is the largest private sanitation company in Brazil. In each town it operates, it brings more health and life quality to the population.
As a “BIM Master” and Digital Twin Manager at AEGEA, you played a crucial role in creating Brazil’s largest 3D digital sanitation map. Can you share some insights about the challenges you encountered and the importance of digitizing asset management to improve sewerage coverage and access to clean water in Brazil?
We are all immensely proud at AEGEA of the world-renowned “Infra Inteligente” programme’s production of the greatest 3D map of sanitation in Brazil. There was no lack of challenges during each development phase of this major project. I believe that the most striking processes for us were during field visits, to capture the reality of each physical asset, especially in the simplest and most deprived areas such as the favelas (low income areas) of Rio de Janeiro. I had the privilege of going to some of these areas, and we were welcomed with open arms. As we continued our work with more advanced processes, such as drones and scanning equipment, I continued visualising the people’s faces. Our work strives to provide access to clean water and sewage coverage, bringing a new hope and improved quality of life for these people.
Working in developing regions like Brazil presents unique challenges and opportunities. As AEGEA aims to provide reliable, sustainable access to clean water for over 30 million people, how did you adapt your digitalisation strategies to suit the local context?
We have a very positive and optimistic view of the current challenge regarding the future of the approximately 500 municipalities we serve where more than 30 million people live. Despite the fact that many areas still do not have the availability of potable water and sewage coverage, we can say that we have been very successful in accelerating investments in coverage and provision of services by combining the Digital Twins of infrastructures and new projects applying the BIM methodology.
I invite smart water organisations to join us in this huge challenge in Brazil. Water and sanitation are top priorities in the country. There has been a federal legislature in recent years with a sanitation policy that establishes goals for universality and improvement in the provision of services, and the regulatory and institutional environment favors private capital investment in the expansion and modernisation of infrastructure.
The success of digital twins relies on effective collaboration. Can you elaborate on the key partnerships that AEGEA formed by being a long-time Member of the SWAN network?
Collaboration has really been the bridge to our evolution into digital twins for the water sector, and we at AEGEA are very much aligned with this purpose of the SWAN network. It is an honour for us to have been involved since the very beginning with SWAN. We can say that throughout this time, there have been countless conferences and interactions where we have been sharing challenges and forming partnerships with the most advanced organisations in the world of smart water, from technology providers, academia, specialists, regulators, and also other smart water utilities.
I would also like to highlight the SWAN Digital Twin Work Group, of which I had the honour of acting as co-leader for two years. We continue to evolve in applications with each new meeting with fellow specialists in the water sector.
What value do you see in gaining practical, field experience vs. pursuing a technical degree like BIM to help young water professionals advance in the smart water sector?
I am very grateful and happy with the trajectory I have built throughout my career. I greatly value all my technical and academic experiences in the water sector. In this sense, I recommend young water professionals to seek to take their experiences and practical challenges from field operations to research levels, in order to innovate in technological applications and methodologies that can contribute to current challenges, such as the Twin Transition approach that bring the digital and sustainability agendas together to improve digital function, drive sustainability goals and future-proof resilience.
Anja Eimer, General Manager for Global Water Industry – Siemens AG
Siemens AG is a global technology powerhouse that has stood for engineering excellence, innovation, quality, reliability and internationality for more than 170 years. For the water industry Siemens provides comprehensive solutions from a single source: from process instrumentation, industrial communication, and power supply systems to drive and protection technology as well as automation and process control technology. From seawater desalination to the treatment of drinking water, and waste water, all the way to the management of water networks, Siemens’ integrated portfolio covers the entire plant lifecycle from planning and operation to maintenance to lower energy consumption, minimize water losses and reduce lifecycle costs.
Energy typically accounts for one-third of the total cost of operation for water utilities. What are the best ways water and wastewater utilities can reach carbon neutrality?
Achieving net zero in the water and wastewater industry will take a lot of effort on many levels, and we firmly believe it can be done. What is essential is to look at the larger picture. That is, the entire water cycle and the lifecycle of water infrastructure, to make an informed choice about which strategies will pay off best in terms of increasing energy efficiency and replacing fossil fuels with more sustainable resources. For example, we need to look into integrating renewable energy in water treatment and desalination systems, and we need to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix. This also means we must find new ways to control the microgrids in water and wastewater facilities to maintain a stable and reliable energy supply. For this purpose, we need to make use of digital solutions such as a digital twin to be able to design and optimse the water and wastewater infrastructure for energy efficiency. To use these digital tools, we need data.
We must create data and operational transparency in water networks to know how much energy we use, where, and when. This requires asset connectivity, which is still a challenge in many installations. Without the data, how can we optimise pump schedules to reduce energy consumption, detect leakages in remote or large networks, or identify the optimum process set point for increasing energy efficiency? Creating these digital twins of operational assets, and enabling connectivity are key on the road to net zero. We still have untapped potential in the form of latent heat and process heat, specifically in sewage systems. So there is still a lot to be achieved.
There is a lot of discussion now about the potential of generative AI for water utilities. Based on Siemens’s experience, how do you think AI can improve utility sustainability goals?
At Siemens, we are already applying AI to many areas of design, engineering, operation, and maintenance. For example, we are using AI to identify anomalies that can point to asset wear or failures, as in pumps and pipelines, and to detect and localise leaks in water networks. AI is already helping the water and wastewater industry to optimise their operations, and generative AI will definitely be a next step. We can use AI to accelerate the net zero transition, through predictive modelling that helps to optimise network efficiency and reduce the footprint of water infrastructure. With AI we can better improve resource efficiency and circularity, for example by avoiding water leakages and extending asset life cycles based on preventive maintenance.
Another area where generative AI has great potential is the talent crunch that can already be felt in the water and wastewater industry. Experienced staff are nearing retirement, and it is getting harder and harder to fill open positions with experienced staff—or any staff, for that matter. Generative AI could be used as a virtual trainer or assistant for onboarding new staff, to explain process parameters or support tasks such as maintenance. AI can also help technology become more people-centric and social, with chatbots that interact naturally with staff, with virtual training environments that make the lives of utilities workers easier and safer, and ultimately with tools that help reliably and sustainably provide societies with high-quality water.
However, what any kind of AI needs in order to perform are data—and here again, we need to have the right data strategy in place. When we achieve that, there is definitely huge potential in the water and wastewater industry for AI in general and generative AI in particular.
Siemens has many collaborative relationships with organisations such as Bentley and TU Berlin. What do you see as the role of collaboration in advancing digital twin deployment in the water sector?
Siemens strongly believes that true innovation is born from close collaboration and cooperation between science and business. This is why we think in ecosystems. You cannot create something as complex and multidimensional as a digital twin without having expertise from many fields—so we work with Bentley and TU Berlin, which both bring their specific capabilities to projects. Bentley, as a leader in the water industry, brings strong capabilities in the planning and design phases of developing 4D and XD digital twins; TU Berlin is spearheading research in water, for example with an advanced pump model. Siemens brings broad engineering and operational expertise, and a strong base in software development.
Collaborating with R&D organisations helps create new degrees of freedom, as these institutions are not driven by time to market and return on investment to the extent that businesses are. Whereas businesses are better suited at developing marketable solutions. Most importantly, combining different domain and technology know-how helps to break down silos in thinking and in technologies, which is essential for developing an end-to-end perspective for asset life cycles and for integrating the various data points in engineering, operation, and maintenance. We need this integration to exploit the full potential of digital twins.
What advice would you give to young professionals who are considering a career in the smart water sector, in terms of skills and mindset needed to excel in this field?
Water is the future—and what could be better than to choose a career in that? Smart water is all about integrating the process and the IT, integrating operational technology with information technology. Having skills in both areas is essential to understanding how the convergence of OT and IT can help to optimise operating expense challenges, and it will be even more so in the future. Digital skills in fields such as data science, data analysis, and programming will be very much needed. You need to be open to whatever challenges the future will bring. We are increasingly living in a world of uncertainties, and the water and wastewater industry is no exception to that.
Would I personally encourage young professionals to choose a career in smart water? Definitely. For me, it is highly satisfying and motivating to help secure a safe, reliable, sustainable water supply and to use all the expertise and technologies that we have for this.
Uri Gutermann, CEO – Gutermann
Gutermann is a global technology leader and innovator in intelligent water loss management products and solutions. The product offering covers the full range of conventional acoustic leak detection technology, from smart handheld instruments to fully automatic, permanently installed correlating network monitoring systems based on IoT communication, enabling utilities to pinpoint leaks with the highest accuracy. Established in 1948 and still privately held, Gutermann is headquartered in Zug/Switzerland, with R&D and manufacturing facilities in Germany, and own sales teams based in France, UK, USA and Australia, as well as a comprehensive distribution network around the world.
As a long-time member of the SWAN flock, what do you view as the value of cross-industry collaboration?
In an increasingly complex world of customer needs and vendor technology and service offerings, it is important that vendors do not lose focus on the pain points a utility is really trying to solve. Every utility has differing needs and differing processes. Every project has its specific challenges that have to be overcome in concert with the customer. A partnership level can be achieved when a vendor can step out of its regular offering and address customer specific requirements by investing R&D and project engineering capacities to adapt its solutions to the customer. That is why we are very interested in having meaningful process conversations with SWAN utility members.
With technology peers, we have made a point of actively seeking collaboration with other SWAN Members in order to increase the value of our solutions to customers. An example is our SaaS integration with one of SWAN’s co-founding members, TaKaDu.
Energy costs are top of mind for many global water utilities. What are some ways to address these concerns and what opportunities are out there such as the EU Recovery Fund?
The EU Recovery Fund has already had a massive impact for us. The latest example is the largest EU (excluding the UK) leak detection technology procurement project we were awarded at Acquedotto Pugliese in Italy.
Leakage has a direct impact on a utility’s energy footprint. In Italy, for example, the current leakage levels are around 40%. This means that only 60% of treated water arrives at its intended end-user. In order to provide 100% of the required water, a utility must produce and deliver 167% of the consumption quantity. Along with the impact on carbon footprint, it’s simple math that if you reduce leakage, the direct impact on energy used for water treatment and pumping is highly significant.
Intelligent water loss management has come a long way. What are the next trends that will shape digital transformation across the sector?
There have been significant advancements, and being a key innovator in water loss technologies is something that we’re very proud of. The way we see the digital transformation in the water sector is in minimising the need for human intervention needed to understand and manage all aspects of a water network, and in maximising the information available for all decision making in a utility.
For us, this consists of four key factors:
- Rigorous deployment of smart sensors in order to measure as much as we can
- The use of efficient data collection and transmission technologies (e.g., NB-IoT, LoRa or meshed networks).
- The use of both cloud intelligence and edge intelligence. This includes Artificial Intelligence, but only if it is based on large amounts of qualified samples.
- The conversion and integration of platforms and applications, and the use of mobile devices for optimal workflow assistance.
Reflecting on your career journey, what is one valuable piece of advice you have received that you would like to share with young professionals who are beginning their journey in the water sector?
Have patience, be nice, learn from the ‘dinosaurs’ in the sector.
Barbara Hathaway, Technology Leader, Leakage Solutions – Ovarro
Ovarro is a global technology company that supports water companies with monitoring, control and management of their assets. It also works across oil & gas, broadcast and transportation sectors.
Can you elaborate on Ovarro’s vision to support a sustainable future for industries and communities around the world through connecting technologies? How do you see technology playing a role in achieving this goal?
Ovarro is a technological leader in instrumentation, software and solutions. We consist of different entities each with their own specialisation – RTUs for different end markets, site and asset SCADA software, data analysis tools, asset management and our leak detection solutions. With leakage reduction a priority for our water utility customers, developing new solutions is a major focus of our business.
Our vision is linking together all these technologies to create an end-to-end solution for our customers and in turn, their customers. We live in a data-rich world but water companies still have a way to go to get optimum value from the available data. At Ovarro, we are working on connecting all the dots to give the most value.
How has being a SWAN member helped to create and strengthen Ovarro’s utility partnerships such as with Anglian Water?
Partnerships with companies such as Anglian Water are the lifeblood of Ovarro. We thrive on the challenges set by our customers, which allow us to come up with innovative solutions. The success of our remote leak detection logger, Enigma3hyQ, is a result of close collaboration with Anglian Water. They approached us in 2017 with an idea to adapt existing technology by combining two products – a correlating noise logger and a site-based hydrophone. A collaborative development team was established with experts from both organisations to create the Enigma3hyQ system’s hardware and software elements.
The project, named Alliancing and Partnership Initiative of the Year at Water Industry Awards in 2021, shows what can be achieved when suppliers work in partnership with utilities, place high value on feedback and take their ideas forward.
Being a SWAN member gives us opportunities to build similar relationships and showcase our technologies to a large global network of organisations which we may not have had access to otherwise. The SWAN annual conference is a particularly valuable platform to share ideas and insights with the smart water community. Liaison between utilities, suppliers, innovators, academics and governments will be the only way to drive through new ideas at the rate we need.
Ovarro was recently featured in an article addressing cybersecurity challenges, what are some important tips for utilities to protect their critical infrastructure?
The most important tip is to stop and think. Before deploying, think about security risks and ask questions. Ovarro is ISO27K accredited and security is a top consideration in all product design. A common security faux pas is to not follow the advice on how to set up a new unit. Don’t rush to get something working and add security later – think about it from the beginning. Another big tip is to keep abreast of security patches. If a device says it needs a patch, then plan to do it. Putting it off to another day will only expose you to further risk.
Technology-wise, what direction is leakage reduction heading in?
The world population is increasing and with this, demand for water. Widespread loss through leaking pipes is no longer acceptable in the eyes of the public and regulators and water companies must ensure they get maximum efficiency out of their assets.
This urgency means companies are more willing to consider new ways of working. Globally, more and more utilities are adopting data-powered tools, which are transforming network management, positively impacting leakage targets and environmental performance. Products that apply artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as cloud-based, as-a-service models, have become staples in the Ovarro portfolio.
By harnessing and transmitting this wealth of newly available data, companies can carry out strategic operational analysis to drive efficiencies and reduce cost. Ideally, in the future, the water sector should aim for near zero leakage. If we are to achieve such an ambitious goal, water utilities need to continue to invest in innovation, support new ideas and share findings.
Looking back on your career journey through the water sector, what is one piece of advice you received that you would like to pass on to young professionals just getting started on their journey?
I would say the most important advice to anyone is to remain humble. Humility allows us to listen to the viewpoints of others and not only centre on ourselves. In both our careers and our personal lives, it is important to allow space for other people and their opinions. It is ok to disagree but it is important to have understood all points of view.
Atte Pakkanen, Operational Manager – Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Networks – Alva
Alva-yhtiöt provides the cornerstones of living: water, heating and electricity. We work together with our customers to make energy efficient and green choices and to ensure sustainable asset management. We are a visionary and future oriented company dedicated to the success of our customers. We have 250 professionals and our turnover in 2021 was EUR 220 million. The owner of Alva-yhtiöt Oy is the City of Jyväskylä.
Alva was the first Finnish utility to achieve ISO 55001 certification in asset management. What sort of cultural shift was required inside the utility in order to reach this outstanding achievement?
We have always had a very professional and committed staff. We have also always invested heavily in the development of our operations. The decision that we want to be good at asset management was conscious. We believed it to be the key to success in our own goals and to maintaining a cost-effective and reliable water supply system in our area. With the certification project, we took a big step forward in systematic knowledge-based decision making and asset management. In connection with the project in 2020–2022, we updated our entire management system and business strategy to comply with the ISO 55001 standard. The reform towards a more professional new kind of asset management was therefore truly comprehensive and touched every aspect of our operations and employees for their part. This has meant a lot of work from all our staff, and I am very proud of them. In addition, the change has meant a different attitude towards things and the background to the decisions made at all levels of the organization, and for this reason we can already talk about cultural change. However, the work is continuous and we are constantly developing our operations further along this chosen path.
As a small utility, servicing an area with 150,000 inhabitants, what strategies have you employed to successfully undertake your digital transformation? How have partnerships helped to bolster this journey?
Despite the fact that we are a small water supply company on a global scale, we are currently developing a management approach intensively based on knowledge and process-like work. We have been collecting data digitally for decades, and it has been stored in several different formats and in different systems in huge quantities. Now we are using data to seek support to achieve our goals in a new way, where the emphasis is on quality, reliability and usability instead of the quantity of data. We have several partners on this journey who are able to offer their expertise and support in areas such as network information system (NIS) development, further data processing, visualisation, etc. We currently have a separate comprehensive static data management plan in the works, which will become an important part of our strategic plans.
Alva recently undertook a three year project to switch its network from mechanical to digital water meters? What are some key lessons you learned on your smart metering journey so far?
Yes. Indeed, we have started replacing our entire meter base with remotely readable ones. This is big for us in terms of scale, but it is still only part of a major digital transition. Remotely readable meters provide both customers and ourselves, as network operators, with real-time and transparent view on the amount of delivered drinking water and possible deviations in it. The utilisation of this huge amount of data to improve network management and reliability, we see our development target in the near future. From a business perspective, this project launch and initial phase was accompanied by one success that is not in itself related to data. Alva organised a nationwide large procurement tendering process involving several large and medium-sized water supply companies from Finland. In this way, we were able to make our project cost-effective and we were able to create high-quality tendering documents including technical specifications, to which several top experts in the field from different water supply companies around Finland contributed. We also paid attention to life cycle costs, the flexibility of data transfer technologies and the long-term security of supply. We believe that these are key issues when we want to ensure the development of our business through high-quality data management also in the future.
What advice can you share with young professionals who are passionate about smart water and innovation to best prepare themselves for a career in this field?
When it comes to developing water services in general, systematic and professional asset management is the key to success. This stems from the fact that there is a lot of property in the water supply infrastructure, and for the most part it is not even seen. Data is a good help on this journey, but it should not be the end in itself. The ISO 55001 certification process also provides a boost and an external perspective on the development of your own operations. Whether you’re developing data management or a company’s management system, it’s worth remembering to build your own practices without direct copying from others. This is also how things work in practice. And remember, it is the people who will ultimately determine your success!
Perina Bridgmohan, Associate Director – Optimisation & Management – Talbot
Founded in 1989, Talbot has evolved into a highly progressive organisation whose driving force is to lead and accelerate the transition to sustainable water and water resilience. We focus on understanding our clients’ specific challenges – water scarcity, water security and cost escalations – and how these will impact on their business performance and reputation. This drives our engineers, scientists, and technicians to find better solutions for the design, implementation, construction and management of sustainable water solutions. Having emerged in an area where water scarcity and supply disruption is the norm, we have assisted hundreds of water-intensive clients to improve their water resilience and reduce their demand on limited resources.
For over 30 years, we’ve been passionate about our planet’s most precious resource, activating the transition to sustainable water. Our engineers, scientists, and technicians are driven to find better solutions for the design, implementation, construction and management of sustainable water solutions. The way we see it, our work will be better only if the way we think is better. The answer is in innovation. This is the art of water.
What is your main driver in supporting utilities in their wastewater processes?
We support and manage water across their site, from source, production, utilities and discharge. Talbot provides solutions for our clients that support their drivers which in many cases is centered around cost saving. We become our clients’ partners and develop a long term relationship. We pride ourselves in ensuring that our clients have a sustainable way to manage their water whether it be through compliance, water security, water recovery. We look for solutions that could make them water independent or provide solutions for water security.
Talbot recently scored a 100% on three independent wastewater plant audits at three different sites they operate. What lessons can you share with utilities working to achieve environmental compliance?
Talbot operates and maintains water and wastewater plants for their clients. The services includes total water management and operations of the plants on our client’s sites. As a result Talbot must comply with health, safety and environmental requirements while operating on our clients’ sites. When our client facilities get audited by external parties this also includes the audit on the plants we operate. In order to comply, we at Talbot make sure they are up to date with compliance and documentation. This involves us being proactive and ensuring that our health, safety and environmental documentation is always kept up to date.
Our Site Project Managers, Supervisors, and site team deserve kudos as they play a big part in ensuring that the site is compliant. We have been working on this plant for seven years with an extension on the contract being granted for a further 3 years. Talbot’s responsibility is to manage wastewater before it is discharged to the municipality. We have saved clients millions by ensuring compliance
Working in emerging markets, what are some unique challenges you have faced in your work? How has developing strong partnerships helped you to overcome these challenges?
Like in most service delivery/providers, you are up against competitors, cost sensitivity by clients and having to work towards gaining your client’s trust.
All of the above can most definitely be overcome by developing a strong and solid relationship with clients. We are living proof of that with having some of our longer standing contracts going on for over 25 years. The key is transparency, communication. building a trusted relationship and delivering what you say you will. These are some of the points that I myself strive to achieve with our clients. Developing strong client relationships is my passion and knowing they are getting a world class service from Talbot is key motivator and driver for me.
What advice can you share with young women aspiring to work in the water sector?
The water sector is one of the most exciting spaces to be in currently since the opportunities to make a difference in the space are immense. It is also great to see that women are being respected in the water sector and I am seeing more and more women in the boardroom being a part of this sector, which is truly inspiring.