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Water utilities and sustainability in the post Covid-19 era

Dominique Lerouge, Vice President Sales Metrology Business, Emerging Markets at Xylem speaks to Utilities Middle East about the need to boost water security in the region and how overcome the impact of Covid-19

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Dominique Lerouge, Vice President Sales Metrology Business, Emerging Markets at Xylem
Dominique Lerouge, Vice President Sales Metrology Business, Emerging Markets at Xylem

UME: Given the region's dry climate, what are the threats to water availability in the Middle East?

Dominique: The Middle East and North Africa is the world's most water-scarce region, with 17 countries below the water poverty line set by the United Nations. Renewable freshwater resources are at the core of this issue, and constitute one of the most critical challenges to sustainable development and human security across the MENA region.

Climate change is expected to further exacerbate this challenge. Regional climate models have indicated that the MENA region is exposed to significant adverse climate change impacts due to rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns in a region that is already largely dry for most of the year.

What is increasingly at stake is no longer just the available quantity of renewable freshwater, but also the security of its supply. This is why smart solutions to tackle these challenges is of paramount importance.

UME: How can companies like Sensus/Xylem contribute to the regional water utilities sector as the implementation of smart cities becomes more common?

Dominique: Among the myriad of elements that comprise a Smart City, smart water is one of them. As the market-leading experts in metrology, our smart water solutions enable utility networks to further contribute to smart city initiatives.

The provision of accurate data collected using next generation analytics allows utilities to achieve improved water consumption measurement, leakage detection, real-time analytics and better water distribution management, all of which are key in safeguarding water resources.

Across the Middle East water is an incredibly precious resource, and any wastage is not just extremely costly for utilities, but also damaging to the environment as a whole. This is one of the reasons why we are witnessing an increased emphasis being placed on the integration of smart solutions, to guarantee optimal water utilisation. On the ground, there is also a seismic shift towards the fight against Non-Revenue Water (NRW) loss and adopting the technology that can help manage this - thereby helping cut costs and deliver more sustainable solutions overall.

UME: Through digital transformation, how can utilities be the forebearers of sustainable practices?

As we increasingly see utility companies across the water industry looking for ways to achieve cost savings, and improve operational efficiencies we have also seen a recent shift in the importance utilities place on sustainability goals.

In the Middle East sustainability is a key pillar of the UAE’s National Agenda 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and a key priority for other utilities and governments across the world. In line with this regional shift towards a more sustainable future, the utilities industry is on the cusp of transformation driven by technological advances.

This digital transformation includes decreasing energy intensity, heightened environmental awareness, and evolving customer expectations. As such, the drive towards Smart Water Networks is set to continue accelerating at pace in the coming years.

A Smart Water Network is not simply an individual system that optimizes a network's efficiencies but rather a means of linking together multiple systems within a network to share data across platforms. Having said that, smart water networks will not only serve to improve daily water management but also have a long-term role in managing water needs in the face of natural disasters and environmental change.

UME: What are some of the benefits of adopting a Smart Water Network, in relation to climate change and sustainability goals?

Dominique: Water is essential for socio-economic progress, healthy ecosystems, and human survival. The climate changes sweeping across the globe put untold pressure on water networks at both extremes; some areas are water stressed and others are prone to increased rainfall and flooding which take their toll on the infrastructure required to address the problem.

The water sector is increasingly more aware of the fact that natural resources are limited, and we are using them at or close to their maximum capacity. That being said, digitalisation is the way forward.

It’s a necessity for a strong and efficient network, and as we expect to see further widespread deployment of smarter networks delivering smarter utility services, we will see smart technology change conventional water and wastewater systems into instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent systems.

It’s also important to remember that water utilities serve four primary purposes: to provide clean drinking water; to manage the flow of water through the system for consumption and firefighting; to sustain water and the water system; and to oversee the account service, including both customer service and financial aspects.

Finally, adopting a Smart Water Network will enable water utilities to remotely and continuously monitor as well as diagnose problems within the network. It also allows utilities to comply transparently and confidently with government regulatory and policy requirements on water quality and conservation, as well as provide customers with the information and tools they need to make informed choices about their behaviours and water usage patterns.

Ultimately the benefits reaped from a smart water network implementing a full analytics framework that collects accurate data, helps save the planet and the yearly budget.

UME: With sustainability being a key pillar of the UAE’s National Agenda 2021, how are utilities likely to pivot (post Covid-19) to contribute towards this important initiative?

Dominique: The global coronavirus pandemic has proven to be an unexpected and unprecedented challenge for industries across the entire world, but in particular for the water utilities sector. As one of our most precious resources, water is vital to our planet and fundamental to human life. And now, more so than ever, it has a critical role to play in safeguarding our wellbeing.

In the face of such challenges, the decisions utility leaders make now to protect their employees, communities and businesses from Covid-19 will have a resounding impact on the operations of tomorrow. In order to maintain operational stability now, and bolster critical infrastructure against potential crises in the years to come, ensuring the safety of networks will continue to play a key role, underpinned by a rolling narrative around sustainability throughout.

In the past, outdated infrastructure, inefficient utilisation and resource management have caused problems. However, with sustainability being a key pillar of the UAE’s National Agenda 2021, and a priority for other utilities and governments across the GCC, the spotlight will shine brightly on how utilities place greater emphasis on the integration of smart solutions, to guarantee all important optimal asset utilisation and adhere to these sustainability goals.

Whilst it is clear is that the pandemic has posed one of the greatest immediate challenges of our lifetime, we must nevertheless not overlook the positive opportunity for learning it has provided and the long-term legacy it will leave on our industry and the world as we know it. The foreseeable positive impact will surely include an acceleration in the digital transformation of the utility industry and beyond.

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