To celebrate the water sector’s most important day: World Water Day, we interview Lukas Loeffler, President of Water and Wastewater at Schneider Electric, on the company’s activities related to water and sanitation, and on what this significant day means to this worldwide specialist in energy management.
Question: Firstly, we would like to know briefly your career path and your current role in Schneider Electric.
Answer: I studied Electrical Engineering / Computer Science and later got a PhD degree in Industrial Automation in Germany. My industrial career started with Bosch, Daimler-Benz and led me to AEG in 1994, where I first headed Strategy for their Postal Automation Division. Later, I became Head of Product Management and a Member of the Board of that unit, until Siemens acquired the business in 1997. In Siemens, I became SVP of Global R&D.
After some years with another company in a similar position, I returned to Siemens North America in 2005 as CEO of the US Postal Automation & Airports Logistics Division. From 2010, I became President and CEO of Siemens Water Technologies, which was later on carved out and sold to Private Equity under the new name Evoqua. In 2015, I joined Schneider Electric as President of the Water and Wastewater Segment.
I believe we are not doing enough today to create public awareness of the future water crisis
Q: What activities does Schneider Electric carry out related to water and sanitation?
A: In Schneider Electric we address both the municipal market, spanning all subsegments such as water resources, plants and networks, and the industrial market, being the municipal market the most dominant one in size. Being a leader in energy management and automation we focus on products, systems, solutions and services for the entire water cycle. We help our customers to better manage their energy consumption, to increase their operational efficiency and to reduce their total cost of ownership. We do this by providing integrated solutions based on energy distribution, automation and software.
Our strategy and offer management are driven by a global team, which is supported by regional structures with experienced sales, project management and engineering teams, close to their customers in all the major regions. In total, there is a staff of around 300 individuals working for water. This is complemented by local and regional system integrators and partners, with whom we successfully execute projects for our clients.
Q: How does Schneider Electric rank in the water space? Can you mention some highly visible successful or recent projects?
A: Schneider Electric is a global corporation with worldwide activities. We have successfully helped customers in over 150 countries with more than 40,000 references around the globe. We work with all the leading water companies and operators, engineering companies and major process OEMs. We see ourselves in a market leading position when it comes to telemetry and SCADA, software and smart water solutions.
We have recently helped several customers in Italy to address the challenges coming from the new regulation about water loss minimization and service level achievements. This includes hardware, smart software and services to better operate and manage the cities water plants and networks. These utilities would not be able to manage several hundred plants and large distributed networks without the help of smart technology.
In other regions such as the Middle East, we work with our key customers to provide electrification and automation for large desalination plants. We recently implemented telemetry systems for water networks in Jordan to supply drinking water to 1.7 million people.
Traditionally, we have been very involved in water resources management projects in Spain, the UK and Latin America. About two thirds of the river basins in Spain are managed by our technology.
In North America we have had tremendous success with energy performance contracts for water utilities, where we help cities like Atlanta to massively reduce their energy cost.
Our biggest growth currently is in Asia (India and China) and Latin America.
The effects of climate change will involve dealing with too little and too much water
Q: How do you see the acceptance of advanced technologies like IoT or digital in the water market?
A: That’s a very interesting question. When I started in the water market about 10 years ago, I learned that most recent developments and innovations had been around process technologies and automation was viewed somewhat sceptically because many operators didn’t feel the need for automating processes that they could run manually. This has of course changed dramatically not only for large plants and operators, where automation was always needed, but also because we see more and more of a young generation coming in who have grown up with these new technologies. In addition, we see an increase in multi-site operations and regional management principles such as in the UK, Canada, Australia or Italy, or with large private operators. Without automation and software, it would be impossible to manage those entities properly and efficiently. But new technologies are not only for operations. When it comes to designing, engineering or building new facilities software, simulation, principles like digital twin have become state-of-the-art for successful project management and can significantly reduce time and risk for the engineering companies.
Q: How do you see the future of smart technologies and digitization for water?
A: I see several areas for future growth: new ways of customer interaction, efficient operations, climate change and sustainable water quality. All of these factors will require new planning management and operation systems, which need to be built on digital technologies. Let me elaborate on each one of these areas a little bit:
- Just like social media revolutionized the way people interact, we will see many new ways in which water utilities will interact with their clients. One example is around water conservation where we already see apps to help people save water. This could have impact on billing and pricing schemes, predictability of water consumption. It allows better customer care and may serve as a basis to provide more future offers for water supply besides drinking water, such as water for non-potable use.
- Today only very few large cities have introduced sufficient automation and software systems to manage their operations efficiently, which leaves a huge market to be addressed in the future. This includes the better management of non-revenue water, reduction of leakage and optimizing pressure and flow in networks. It also applies to efficient operation of plants, which do not run in an optimized fashion very often and suffer from massive operational costs. Specifically, the large operators have a huge amount of assets to manage, whose maintenance or replacement needs to be planned and prioritized. In a market that has been chronically underfunded, the smart allocation of capital based on various scenarios is very important.
- The effects of climate change will involve dealing with too little and too much water. In case of water scarcity, we have to develop intelligent ways to generate, recycle and store our water from alternative sources. In case of natural disasters, we have to deal with massive amounts of rainfall or stormwater, which has to be efficiently managed, minimizing its effects on cities and people.
- The future will see more and more threats not only concerning availability but also quality of water reserves. Today most regulations only address some of the very fundamental aspects. In the future we will have to deal with more sophisticated pollutants such as drugs, hormones, antibiotics in our drinking water and in the environment.
Today only very few large cities have introduced sufficient automation and software systems to manage their operations efficiently
Q: What does the World Water Day mean for Schneider Electric?
A: Schneider Electric is proud to be recognized as one of the World’s most sustainable companies. World Water Day is an opportunity for Schneider Electric to highlight its commitment to improve access to clean water for everyone, everywhere.
We do this by, first, ensuring our own sites implement water efficiency and conservation plans. Secondly, we develop solutions based on our EcoStruxure architecture for water and wastewater management for mature countries.
Lastly, through our Access to Energy program, we deploy adapted offers for emerging countries such as Villaya Water solution.
By doing so, we contribute to the achievement of one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 6 for clean water and sanitation.
In the future we will have to deal with more sophisticated pollutants such as drugs, hormones, antibiotics in our drinking water and in the environment.
Q: What moves you personally when you think about the World Water Day?
A: We have managed to put people on the moon, but we still have a sizeable portion of the world’s population without access to clean drinking water and sanitation. I admire the work of leaders like Bill Gates, or the similar efforts of many organizations around the world, in addressing this fundamental problem. Looking into the future and considering megatrends like population growth and climate change, I believe we are not doing enough today to create public awareness of the future water crisis, which in my view is absolutely becoming real. The price of water, which many consider to be “the oil of the 21st century”, does not reflect the real cost of the water production and treatment. Here it is time for responsible politicians to step up and face the unpleasant truth that they will have to tell their constituents that water prices will need to go up. But looking at regions like Singapore makes me very hopeful, when I see how they have created public awareness for this precious resource and have smartly and extremely successfully managed a supply from various sources.
Q: And lastly, what do you think citizens can do to make the SDG 6 (ensure access to water and sanitation for all) goal possible?
A: I believe the key to this is awareness, education and personal contribution to water savings. Having lived in different countries I have personally experienced how valuable an environmental consciousness can be and that people need to be mindful of how they deal with water, their most precious resource.