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“You can find Schneider Electric solutions in over 50% of desalination plants around the world"

Amin Abdel Tawab, MEA Zone Segment Director, Water & Wastewater at Schneider Electric
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Schneider Electric, leader in the digital transformation of energy management and automation, is using innovation to unlock efficiency and sustainability for its water & wastewater customers through data-based insights.

Schneider Electric helps water & wastewater facilities decrease energy consumption, increase operational efficiency, and reduce the total cost of ownership. Itself recognised for its corporate sustainability performance – it was this year’s number one company in the Global 100 most sustainable corporations index, by Corporate Knights – its solutions help turn unstructured data into valuable insights, critical to making decisions on business and environmental actions. We hear from Amin Abdel Tawab, water & wastewater segment lead in the Middle East at Schneider Electric about addressing water sector challenges in this region with scarce resources, with a focus on desalination plants and how smart water solutions can enhance their processes and sustainability outcomes.

Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at Schneider Electric?

I have a bachelor’s degree in electrical power and machines engineering, I have been working for SE for the last 15 years, and before that, I worked in ABB for four years. During those 19 years, I consider myself fortunate for being able to experience and work in almost every technical and commercial function. I started my career in design engineering, then moved to project management, marketing, sales, and finally business development.

My journey with the water industry started in 2010. I was leading the water sales team in SE Egypt; in 2015 I took charge of the water business development in Africa, and early this year I took an extended scope over the Middle East. Currently, I am the water and wastewater Business Development Director for the Middle East and Africa.

Could you comment on current trends affecting the global deficit of water?

By 2030, if we keep on the same track, we will face a global deficit of 40% of water in an identical climate scenario – or probably worse – than the one we are facing now. And this trend is mainly the combination of three factors – population growth & demographic change, urbanization, and climate change. To put this into context, the world’s total population is estimated to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050. At the same time, water consumption is increasing by 2.5% per year faster than the world’s population growth.

By 2030, if we keep in the same track, we’ll face a 40% global water deficit in an identical or worse climate scenario than currently

The water sector has a double challenge in the face of climate change, providing solutions to adapt to its effects, but also having a role in mitigation by lowering its electricity consumption and thus its carbon footprint. How is the water sector tackling these challenges?

When it comes to climate change, 25% more natural resources are currently being used than the earth can yield at a sustainable rate. Yes, it’s true that the water sector has a double challenge in the face of climate change. On the one hand, the need to be more efficient by reducing energy consumption and prioritizing the use of clean energies. On the other, encouraging a more efficient use of water both in the agricultural and urban sectors through public awareness campaigns or improved leakage management techniques. At the end of the day, we need to create a resilient and sustainable water supply for people and industries everywhere.

The equation in long-term security of water services provision is local government + service providers + tech partners

Can you tell us about Schneider Electric’s R&D efforts combining the company’s expertise in energy and water solutions?

The equation in the long-term security of water services provision is local government + service providers + tech partners. Companies such as Schneider Electric have energy expertise and a range of water solutions, from Internet of things (IoT) technology to software and hardware solutions for monitoring and controlling water and wastewater treatment plants, to water networks and desalination plants. Schneider Electric can provide hardware and software solutions to enable these solutions along with R&D and other core functions. We go beyond, to develop solutions based on our EcoStruxure architecture for water and wastewater management for our clients in over 150 countries.

Amin Abdel Tawab, MEA Zone Segment Director, Water & Wastewater at Schneider Electric

Desalination offers an unconventional source of water to augment the water supply in water-scarce regions. Can you tell us about recent innovations to improve the cost and environmental footprint of desalination?

The Middle East accounts for more than half of the desalination capacity worldwide. Meanwhile, the region is one of the scarcest in resources and with one of the highest per capita consumptions. The countries used to pay massive bills in fuel supply and subsidies in the legacy inefficient thermal desalination assets.

We are clearly seeing a trend of decoupling power from water and relying more on RO desalination as opposed to MSF and MED plants

With the evolution of technology, we are clearly seeing a trend of decoupling power from water and relying more on reverse osmosis desalination as opposed to MSF and MED plants. RO is 4-5 times more energy-efficient, which means lower cost and less carbon.

The technology providers and research institutes are in a race to improve RO even further, enhancing efficiency by maximizing the gains of energy recovery devices and finding more sustainable techniques to limit the effect of brine disposal on the marine ecosystem.

Integration with renewables is another trend we can detect in the market. Most of the GCC countries have embarked on ambitious programs in renewables to diversify their energy mix. Most newly developed plants are connected to renewables and we expect even further acceleration in this direction. The integration with renewables will cater for greener and more efficient desalination.

Most newly developed desalination plants are connected to renewables and we expect even further acceleration in this direction

If we consider all these trends in addition to the innovation in finance and business models, we can understand the rapidly descending tariff rate of desalination Purchase Water Agreements. We are now in the range of $0.4/m3 thanks to the Jubail 3A contract with ACWA Power in Saudi Arabia, and early this year Utico has broken this record in UAE with DEWA in Hassyan IWP to a level below 0.3 $/m3.

Smart finance, reliance on RO, lower CAPEX, energy efficiency, and operational excellence are fuelling this competitive landscape backed by innovation and technology.

What kind of solutions can desalination facilities use to maximize their operational value?

Operating a desalination plant is about finding the right balance between minimizing the risk of downtime, reducing the cost of O&M, and optimizing the asset performance.

Digital technologies can play a major role in helping desalination operators and assets owners maximize their value. To drive a holistic view on their assets, operations, people, and resources, we partner with customers to strategize and deploy a stepwise digital transformation initiative that is small and fit to their current status in terms of digital readiness but with big ambition and line-of-sight on where they should land. In the end, it is about driving better business outcomes of efficiency, sustainability, and resilience.

We partner with customers to deploy a step-wise digital transformation that is small and fit to their digital readiness

We strongly believe that efficiency is an anchor term here. In our perspective, integration between energy and automation is one of the key enablers to maximize the operational value of a desalination plant. With EcoStruxure for Water and Wastewater, we bring the power of IoT, the process, and power domain expertise to one architecture where the operators can have full control of their assets. The integration between energy and automation can drive up to 20% production efficiency and 30% energy saving.

The second dimension to the efficiency in operating desalination plants is lifecycle management. We believe that driving efficiency is better captured from the very early stage of design, engineering, up to construction and commissioning to the operation and maintenance. What is designed with efficiency in-mid can be easily operated as such. Thus, with our independent software partners, we drive efficiency and sustainability across the lifecycle; AVEVA with an extensive portfolio covering the industrial and process assets and a suite of energy management software vendors like ETAP covering the power assets. Our customers typically leverage up to a 20% reduction in TCO and a 30% reduction in maintenance cost thanks to total lifecycle management.

Integration between energy and automation is one of the key enablers to maximize the operational value of a desalination plant

The third dimension of efficiency is when we integrate the IoT endpoints to the cloud without compromising cybersecurity. Many of the major utilities in GCC have started to consider the power of the cloud to unlock the potential of Big Data, AI, and analytics. Most of them are considering a private cloud model but soon this approach will evolve to hyper-scale public and/or hybrid cloud. This integration between end-point to the cloud is at the core of our EcoStruxure architecture and can drive up to 25% operational efficiency.

And the last dimension is about transforming our customers from site-by-site management to integrated company management or what we call “Unified Operation Centers (UOC)”. Most of our desalination customers, specifically developers or end-users, have a portfolio of desalination assets, and these assets are scattered but most of them are connectable in some way or another. When we connect these plants together, they get a better picture of what they consume, what they produce, where are the efficiency gaps and what should be the right operational matrices and KPIs so that they make better-informed decisions based on data. With this approach, they typically achieve up to 20% improvement in their operational efficiency and a 10% reduction in OPEX.

Our customers typically leverage up to 20% reduction in TCO and 30% reduction in maintenance cost thanks to total lifecycle management

To what extent can desalination operations measure their performance in terms of energy use and production value?

With the evolution of IoT, every single device is becoming more and more equipped with adequate intelligence. Each equipment is now playing a dual or triple role. Think about a VFD running a high-pressure pump. It can now tell us much more than the pump status and speed. The VFD is acting as a sensor. We will have full visibility on the energy consumption, the performance point, and even asset management data. The same device generating this huge amount of data is connectable either to the automation system at the edge or even directly to the cloud or both. When we take this approach at scale you start realizing the value of data in better managing the energy. The operators can simulate and design their dynamic energy performance with a very powerful data analytics backbone. That is one of the many outcomes a plant’s digital twin can bring to the operations. It is much more than just measurement that a real-time control system can achieve. It goes up to the level of prediction, simulation, and automation based on multiple parameters. When we correlate the energy data with production conditions like temperature, salinity, demand, and many other factors with the production data we start to see the power of data analytics. It is a key measure of how much energy you consume versus how much m3 you produce but you can scale this view on a digital twin to predict, simulate and run endless what-if scenarios.

Could you highlight some key desalination projects Schneider Electric has been involved in?

We have partnered with Metito, one of the major EPCs in the region, to deliver the Al Galala desalination plant on the Red Sea coast in Egypt. The plant produces 150,000 m3/day with a very specific nature due to the adjacent mountains where the consumption and tankers are. This project was delivered as a turnkey fully integrated, power and automation, EcoStruxure architecture in 18 months. The hydraulic modelling system we built to manage the performance of the transmission system and pumping station is helping the operators to reduce energy and detect leakage.

Many of the major utilities in GCC started to consider the power of the cloud to unlock the potential of Big Data, AI, and analytics

We are also executing another major desalination plant in Saudi Arabia that will serve a very futuristic city. This plant again has fully integrated power and automation EcoStruxure architecture. The control system of this plant is integrated with a solar panel that will self-supply around 40% of the load during the daytime. The operators will use augmented reality applications to manage their field maintenance activities. The sustainability manager of the plant will have access to plant energy data and CO2 emissions from everywhere in correlation to production matrices and operation conditions.

You can find our solutions in desalination in more than 50% of desalination plants around the world. These were only two recent examples from the region here.

Can you comment on the role of Schneider Electric in contributing to global environmental sustainability through its direct operations, but also developing solutions to help corporate clients and water industry improve water resource management?

Our customers have become more aware of the dimensions of sustainability. Sustainability is already the capacity to keep operating your installations and your companies in difficult situations. But it’s also the fact that our businesses have to become carbon neutral, have to trend to net-zero.

Correlating the energy data with production conditions, demand and other factors with production data, we see the power of analytics

So, we see sustainability at Schneider as something very holistic. We see that the time is now and that there is a need to take sustainability to the next level. At Schneider, we play on both sides of the equation, leading by example in our own ecosystem while also providing solutions for our customers, helping them on their sustainability journey.

And we want to make sure that we lead in our industry in the field of sustainability. We’ve been recognized in multiple manners for our engagement in sustainability; this benefits our customers. This year, we have been named by Corporate Knights as the World’s most sustainable corporation.

We are the trusted advisor of our customers, helping them digitize, strategize, execute and iterate on their sustainability strategy

At Schneider, we lead by example; we have pledged to net-zero CO2 emissions in our operations by 2030 and we made six long-term sustainability commitments to address climate change, resources, trust culture, equality, generation diversity, and local community empowerment.

For our customers, we are the trusted advisor of our customers in the field of sustainability, helping them to digitize, strategize, execute and iterate on their sustainability strategy; helping our customers to become greener. We have committed over the next five years to help our customers save more than 100 million tons of carbon a year to help decarbonize our operation.

Particularly in the water industry, sustainability and resilience have to be addressed from a broad perspective involving operations, resources, people, and infrastructure. Putting all these in context is what brings true benefits to the entire business performance.