When we talk about the digital transformation of the water industry, the focus often turns to advanced economies like the U.S., UK, and Australia. But as competition heats up, leading companies are increasingly seeking greener pastures, turning their attention to emerging pockets of opportunity across Latin America, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa.
According to Bluefield’s global digital water forecast, emerging and developing markets will account for roughly 30% of the US$387.5 billion in total global digital water spending expected over the next decade. In fact, digital water expenditure in emerging markets is projected to scale at an annual rate of 11.4%, compared to 7.7% for advanced economies.
Digital water opportunities vary significantly by region, based on geography, demographics, income level and digital maturity. While utilities in emerging markets are at earlier stages of their digital water journeys, this is creating vast opportunities for long-term market expansion. In China, large urban utilities are making initial investments in core hardware and software solutions like meters, billing and customer management, and asset management platforms, creating new growth opportunities in technology segments that have become more saturated in other parts of the world.
Keep an eye out for these trends driving digital water growth globally:
Rapid population growth, and urbanization spurring water infrastructure buildout, enabling technology leapfrogging. High population growth rates in Middle Eastern markets incrementally expand the addressable market for metering and remote monitoring, while India is facing pressure to meet Sustainable Development Goal targets for water and sanitation access for its fast-growing, increasingly urban population. This creates opportunities for technology leapfrogging, with smart metering, remote monitoring, and SCADA capabilities embedded at the outset as part of new water supply networks and smart city initiatives.
Digital water opportunities vary significantly by region, based on geography, demographics, income level and digital maturity
A focus on improved water management, in the face of water scarcity, is driving digital opportunities. The Middle East’s reliance on desalination and reuse are driving an increased focus on digitalization at the plant level, while integrated smart city initiatives are creating showcase project opportunities to educate the market. Israel is a regional leader with a water-centric approach to policymaking, a strong innovation culture, and a robust digital water startup scene.
Infrastructure convergence drives greater investment in holistic network and resource management. In the Gulf States, water is managed by large national multi-utilities enabling water operations to enjoy the spillover benefits of investment in cutting-edge customer service, remote monitoring, and asset management platforms which are driven principally by the electric side of the business.
Private participation opens the door to innovation and digitalization. Utility consolidation and private participation in Latin American markets are opening the door to greater investment in digital technology, though the region’s complex political-economic environment can create long project lead times. In Brazil and Chile, increasing private participation in the water sector provides an avenue for greater market maturity, importation of foreign expertise, and a growing emphasis on digitalization to drive efficiencies. The Chilean water industry is dominated by large, regional utilities backed by private capital, investing in remote monitoring capabilities to better manage their vast networks.
Digital water opportunities are growing in every corner of the world, but each market is unique. Understanding local market structure, technology preferences, policy shifts, and the competitive landscape is crucial, underscoring the need for reliable market intelligence.