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Boosting water security

Factors such as the rapidly growing global population, widespread industrialisation, increasingly volatile weather patterns, and aging or overly stressed infrastructure, can all pose threats to critical water. Frank Ackland, Managing Director, Middle East & Turkey at Xylem speaks to Utilities Middle East about latest trends geared towards boosting water security

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            Frank Ackland, Managing Director, Xylem, Middle East & Turkey
Frank Ackland, Managing Director, Xylem, Middle East & Turkey

We recently celebrated World Water Day for which this year’s theme is ‘Water and Climate Change’. As global water challenges intensify, what are some of the approaches needed to help combat climate change?

Climate change affects us all in a in a variety of ways, and sadly, water is one of the primary resources through which these impacts are felt. In some cases, these impacts are clear – for example through the increasing frequency and intensity of storms, floods and droughts – all of which are becoming more and more prevalent in the Middle East and across the world. In fact, between 2000 and 2012 natural disasters caused $1.9 trillion in damage globally.  Increasing unpredictability in the water cycle translates to greater water stress at different times and over different areas.

Water is vital to our planet… to human life, economic development and societal growth. It’s a critical component in a number of vital processes from food production to energy. And, as COVID-19 has demonstrated, water is the first line of defense in infection control and protecting against future public health crises. However, while global demand for water continues to spiral, supply is declining.

Factors such as the rapidly growing global population, widespread industrialisation, increasingly volatile weather patterns, and aging or overly stressed infrastructure, can all pose threats to critical water networks, especially when combined. This is why we have to think smarter about water, now more than ever before.

It’s a huge opportunity – solving water - and thankfully, we are well on the way. Many innovative water utilities have already embraced new approaches and technologies that offer bold new ways to protect and optimize water.

Take our Decision Intelligence solutions, for example, which leverage information from a range of digital technologies, like sensors and meters, to help water managers make better, more effective decisions. These solutions save capital, allowing operators to reinvest in their infrastructure and manage water affordability.

We’re already seeing the huge economic and environmental gains that data-driven solutions can deliver for the sector. As more water managers adopt these digital solutions, the world is closer to addressing major water challenges today than we have ever been before.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the water sector today?

In many parts of the world, aging and overburdened infrastructure, as well as inefficient utilisation and resource management, are creating significant challenges for the water sector. The International Energy Agency has estimated that 34% of all water worldwide becomes non-revenue water and is lost before it reaches its intended destination, much of that due to leaking pipes and faulty infrastructure.

Across the Middle East in particular, production of water is very resource-intensive, as a direct result of climatic conditions. With that in mind, any leakages have a higher net impact on the overall ability of utilities to run a smart water network across the region.

However, with sustainability being a key pillar of the UAE’s National Agenda 2021 and spearheaded by DEWA, and a key priority for other utilities and governments across the GCC, we are seeing greater emphasis being placed on the integration of smart solutions, to guarantee optimal asset utilisation.

The good news is that the technology exists today to help us achieve these goals and solve many of the most critical water challenges we face. Not only are we seeing the reinvention of water management, but also the creation of new water, energy and cost efficiencies.

Smart water networks not only serve to improve daily water management, but also play an important long-term role in managing water needs in the face of natural disasters and environmental change. Aided by unparalleled digital innovation, utilities can ensure increased water security for the industrial, commercial, agricultural and domestic sectors, which can have a direct impact on economic security and growth, while simultaneously helping the environment.

How are data and technology disrupting the water sector in the MENA region?

The UAE is already home to a strong power and water infrastructure, but there is a growing need to further optimise operations and achieve higher efficiencies by leveraging digital technology. We are already seeing strong efforts across all utilities to introduce smart networks that will reduce distribution losses as well as proactively identify any maintenance challenges.

The region is witnessing a growing realisation that complex systems and entire cities can be managed more effectively if data is leveraged for greater visibility. The Internet of Things (IoT), which is a convergence of technologies such as remote sensors, machine learning and real-time analytics, is central to the development of these smart, digital ecosystems.

From a water and infrastructure perspective, we are seeing a major shift towards the fight against Non-Revenue Water (NRW) loss. Water operators are adopting digital technologies that can help to reduce NRW, thereby helping cut costs and deliver more sustainable solutions overall.

A smart water network solution offers a continuous and frequent flow of data which in turn, , ensures a continuous chain of information about a network and facilitates real-time, data-based decision making. This gives utilities comprehensive, real-time insight into network activity and allows them to identify issues that can potentially cause lasting damage, ahead of time. Utilities have a large amount of data at their fingertips; however, this is often held in different data sets across a number of teams. If data and analytics are integrated across the organisation, better data-driven business decisions can be made - improving operational efficiency and helping combat the water stress that the region faces.

How is Xylem supporting the UAE and wider GCC in achieving its digital transformation ambitions?

While water utilities lose significant revenue and water due to meter-related issues, smart water technologies can help solve these problems and improve customer service. Be ‘water smart’ is the call to action the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) has put out to utilities and the wider public, as part of the UAE’s aim to become the smartest city in the world by 2021.

GCC governments, and in particular the UAE leadership, are forging smarter, more efficient and sustainable ways of providing water, and Xylem is working closely with our customers, local partners and government entities across the region to help achieve this.

As the largest pure-play water technology company in the world, we do this by harnessing the power of new digital technologies and developing data-fuelled solutions that deliver improvement at every critical point along the entire water cycle.

Our advanced technology and infrastructure solutions are enabling utilities to actively monitor and dynamically optimize their water systems to better serve their communities, and safeguard humanity’s most precious resources – a vital component of our economic, social and environmental development. In addition, through our newly launched, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Dubai, we are further supporting the region with industry-leading products that provide integrated services and support to our regional customers.

What measures are companies like Xylem taking to help mitigate challenges in the water sector?

At Xylem, we are doing our part to shape the future of water and smart infrastructure by creating a true innovation ecosystem. This includes investing heavily in R&D and partnering with different stakeholders in our innovation ecosystem who can share new ideas and bring new opportunities or perspectives to address the world’s greatest water challenges.

Our commitment to solving the world’s greatest water challenges is also underpinned by our Sustainability 2025 Goals, which include optimising global water management by saving more than 16.5 billion cubic meters of water through technologies that avert water loss and enable water reuse.

Water managers are now using smart water solutions when dealing with acute infrastructure challenges, including pipe leaks, main breaks, sewage overflows, storm water overflows, energy-intensive operations, and inefficient decision-making and asset management. Additionally, cities are expanding at a rapid pace, with a projected 70 percent of the world’s population living in urban areas by 2050, putting water networks – already suffering from a historical lack of investment – under immense pressure.

At Xylem, we have developed some of the most sophisticated water technology and infrastructure solutions on the market that address some of the most complex pain points. Our aim is to bring our global expertise and experience to solve our customers’ unique challenges and deliver solutions that add value to their operations.

What are some of the benefits smart water solutions can bring to a utility and the environment?

The challenges facing water managers are significant and mounting, from soaring NRW rates, to the prevalence of contaminants and rising energy costs. Smart water solutions hold the potential to address these challenges and fundamentally transform the economics of water management. Smart water solutions can deliver many benefits to water utilities. These include:

  • Safety: Advanced attack detection and increased safety and control throughout water and wastewater operations.
  • Operational costs: Reduced energy and maintenance costs throughout the distribution network.
  • Resilience: The ability to identify, predict and prevent failures and downtime in critical equipment.
  • Flexibility: Increased flexibility to handle different situations (such as volumes, parameters) within existing infrastructure.

The good news is that the solutions required to be successful in these implementation efforts are, in many cases, already available today, while other solutions are rapidly emerging. Through our end-to-end smart water solutions, we are working with leaders and our partners in the water sector, to not only enhance community welfare, but also safeguard the environment and transform the economics of water and wastewater operations for utilities.

In the wake of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, what is the impact on utilities and water networks? What can utilities do to safeguard water in the midst of the current crisis?

The UAE is home to some of the most innovative infrastructure in the world, including DEWA’s robust market-leading smart water solutions. This is proving key to the country’s ability to remain resilient in the face of this crisis and continue to maintain essential water and wastewater services for communities.

In the short term however, we expect utilities to experience load reductions due to a lesser demand for power, gas and water from the commercial and industrial sectors. This should alleviate some of the strain on utilities and divert resources to the increased need from residential customers, given that more people are now either working/studying from home.

The COVID-19 outbreak is already causing far-reaching concern and economic hardship for consumers, so the recently announced stimulus package by the UAE Government to reduce DEWA water and electricity charges by 10% is testament to the Government’s support of UAE businesses, the economy and the entire nation during the current crisis.

Smart water networks have the ability to pivot in response to fluctuations in demand and supply, and the lack of disruption we are currently experiencing highlights the benefits that a comprehensive smart water network can bring. We are working closely with our supply base globally, to minimize impact and ensure they have appropriate business continuity actions in place.

As we continue to support our partners in the region, our thoughts go out to all the frontline workers and the UAE Government for their tremendous efforts in safeguarding the entire nation.

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