Schneider Electric invited me to their annual gathering, the Innovation Summit, to talk about digitalisation in the water sector. The event, held in Barcelona, brought under one roof the latest innovations and cutting-edge technology for energy management and automation. It also included a full conference programme focused on the digital transformation of our economy.
The members of our panel, perfectly organised and chaired by Carmen de Miguel, were Alejandro Beivide from Acciona Agua, Vicente Gómez from Suez, Gonzalo Delacámara from IMDEA and Jokin Larrauri from Schneider Electric. It was a pleasure to share my ideas with these experts and I would like to use my blog to also share them with SWM's readership. This is a brief summary of my presentation to the busy plenary session of the Innovation Summit.
1. Data: the new gold
Thanks to technologies such as the Internet of Things and the deployment of high speed networks such as 5G, we will have a huge amount of data, a much larger processing capacity, and (with the development of machine learning and artificial intelligence) we will be able to anticipate all kinds of events accurately. Given the abundance of this new raw material (the data), the question is: What should we do with them?
2. Efficiency and the circular economy
All roads lead to a well-known concept: increasing the efficiency. Thanks to the digital revolution, we will waste less water and we will be able to put it towards more productive uses and environmental conservation. This should help the water sector continue to be at the forefront of the circular economy, the new paradigm that seeks to improve economic results while at the same time resource use is reduced.
3. Leading the fight against climate change
This revolution should also help us to be a major actor in the decarbonisation of the economy, reducing energy costs and CO2 emissions. Ultimately, be an active part of efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, the great challenge our generation faces.
4. Towards water security
The water sector must be a key player in these debates, not a marginal one. It is surprising to hear European institutions, for instance, talking about the circular economy with no mention to water. Or to see that some communications from Climate Summits overlook the impacts of climate change on the water cycle. Digitalisation is one of the best tools we have to show the world what we can do to ensure that in the future water security is the rule (rather than the exception) in the entire world.
5. The much-needed change in management
Digitalisation encounters resistance to change in some collectives. On one hand, we have some ruling elites with big sector elephants, who have lived comfortably as leaders in the past few decades, and now have big problems to move forward quickly. But we also encounter resistance in workers, essentially those who, whether rightly or not, think they could lose their jobs. They will all have to, sooner or later, face much-needed change management.
6. Investment in digitalisation is costly
In the water sector we have always heard that investing in sanitation was not attractive for politicians because the sanitation network was ‘out of sight’ and so they would not win votes with it. Something similar occurs here. It is imperative we link digitalisation to water and energy efficiency, and we quantify clearly the return on these investments. Then, we must communicate that information.
7. New contracts, new business
Business models are changing. Large companies are no longer focusing on the traditional market of municipal concession contracts, and are shifting their attention to technological solutions instead. There is also a growing trend to use performance contracts, where all parties (the public and private sectors) stand to gain from the efficiency obtained.
8. Greater flexibility
The wealth of data will lead to more flexible resource management, adaptable to the needs of the environment, the economy and people. This will be very important wherever different users compete for water resources. Prices should change in the same direction, reflecting dynamically any kind of change. For all that, the figure of a regulator is essential.
9. Greater transparency for digital natives
The new generations (digital natives) will demand a lot more from service providers: where does my water come from, what quality does it have, where does it go, how much does each thing cost, the amount of CO2 you produce, real time analytics, etc. And many other things that, right now, we cannot even imagine.
10. New actors
The data-based economy is bringing new actors to our sector, and I would highlight experts in the Internet of Things and connectivity. We will also see traditional agents that will have new opportunities to enter other domains thanks to the data obtained about infrastructure or consumer habits. How valuable could be the data from a sensor placed in the shower of a household for a business selling shampoo? Liquid gold.
Watch the entire debate here: