Look for more intelligent discussions around the benefits of smart water solutions as a new alliance takes shape among industry leaders in North America when they gather in New Orleans this week for WEFTEC, the world’s largest annual water quality exhibition.
The Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) is using the event to kick off a new North American Alliance that its director Amir Cahn explains will drive innovation all the way from the physical layer of water and wastewater infrastructure, through sensing and control, collection and communication, data management and display and finally to data fusion and analysis.
Initial alliance partners include: 3M, Bentley, Bluefield Research, CH2M, DC Water, Echologics, EMA, Eramosa, EPA, FATHOM, Frost and Sullivan, GE, Global Water Technologies, Global Water Works, Gutermann, Hach, Kisters, Las Vegas Valley Water District, Optiqua, Qualcomm, S::can, Schneider Electric, Seattle Water, Sensus, Sierra Wireless, SmartCover Systems, Smart Utility Systems, Syrinix, TaKaDu, Trimble and Xylem.
The combination of large and small companies provides an interesting example of what my former college classmate, Julie Meyer, has labeled Ecosystem Economics. Her work in Europe has focused on bringing venture capital to create a future where large infrastructure companies create the virtual highways on which smaller digital companies drive data and create value for users. It’s an apt analogy for the water sector.
At Global Water Technologies, we’re looking at how such tools can be integrated into solutions that make a difference for both water utilities and their customers. For example, new smart meter upgrades were installed in Indianapolis this summer to test how real-time data can be collected and combined with remote control of water use.
Utilities benefit by having better visibility of their distribution system, with data consumption patterns and leakage, plus the ability to remotely shut off meters when necessary. Customers benefit by having actual consumption data that allow more budgeting and savings. Add leak detection technology and the entire community benefits from having predictive analytics that can be used to prevent costly and disruptive water main breaks.
At a meeting last week in the city’s new 16 Tech Innovation District, Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution addressed how such smart thinking can factor into economic development in a world where “software eats manufacturing” and noted the work that Milwaukee has done to leverage its focus on water technology as an economic lever. Connecting old industrial economies and their infrastructure to a digital future is key to driving international trade and investment and making them global cities, she noted.
Several of the new alliance members are already making major moves in that direction. From GE’s significant investment in Predix as a cloud-based platform for the Internet of Things (IoT) to Xylem announcing its intent to acquire Sensus for $1.7 billion, the smart money should be watching smart water in the year ahead.