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Through self-service solutions, AI will increase sustainability & efficiency in the water industry

Reducing non-revenue water, predicting pipeline blockages, and optimizing asset reliability: these are all areas of focus for a new generation of integrated end-to-end solutions that easily link hardware to artificial intelligence (AI) insight. Designed specifically for easy adoption, these solutions bring AI and digitalization within the reach of virtually every water and wastewater company.

Discussions of current issues in water and wastewater still tend to focus on physical infrastructure solutions to the challenges of climate change, urbanization, and resource efficiency. Yet there is growing uncertainty as to whether building more and newer infrastructure is indeed the right approach, when cost pressures and a widening skills gap are making it increasingly difficult to maintain and supervise the already existing infrastructure. Plants and systems are cost- and time-intensive to operate and service – and while this function clearly is the core expertise of water and wastewater companies, the challenges are becoming increasingly complex due to both regulations and demographics. In Germany alone, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) projects that 12.9 million economically active people will reach retirement age by 2036, and companies across all sectors are already struggling to attract new talent. As a result, the answer to the challenges in the water and wastewater industry cannot be of the “do more of the same” type; instead, the industry needs to look for new approaches if it wishes to ensure that operations are resilient, efficient, and sustainable.

The key message: digitalization is ready and it is here to help

Integrating BuntPlanet’s offerings and team with Siemens’ portfolio for water utilities will result in even more comprehensive and secure solutions for water customers

Digitalization provides many valuable tools for optimizing asset management – yet water and wastewater companies have been cautious about adopting digital solutions. “I often encounter significant concerns about the extent to which these technologies can be used sensibly, at a reasonable cost, while minimizing risks,” says Ainhoa Lete, who is deeply involved in many digitalization projects in the Siemens water business. As the co-founder and CEO of BuntPlanet, Lete and her team have developed and launched multiple products and services that leverage AI, big data, cloud computing, and hydraulic simulation to optimize water resources and reduce environmental impact, which is why she is very clear in her messaging: “The technology is here, and it is ready.” Moreover, the industry can learn from other sectors, adds Adam Cartwright, who is Director of Industry Strategy for water and wastewater software at Siemens: “Millions have been invested in oil and gas, chemicals, and other sectors to test and refine many of the same digital technologies we use in water. And while there are differences, there is much that is the same and uses the same underpinning technology.” Both Lete and Cartwright speak from experience. Since December 2023, following Siemens’ acquisition of BuntPlanet, they have been driving the digital transformation in water and wastewater for Siemens. But the collaboration between the two companies started well before that: BuntPlanet has been cooperating very closely with Siemens since 2019. Integrating BuntPlanet’s offerings and team with Siemens’ portfolio for water utilities will result in even more comprehensive and secure solutions for water customers. Their confidence comes from seeing the success of the last 5 years and assessing how these can be applied across the sector.

Simplifying architectures for easy adoption

A distinctive characteristic of the water and wastewater industry is that utilities have complex existing legacy operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) landscapes. Bringing new solutions into the sector is a challenge, and the business case has not always been clear. This is why Siemens has put a great deal of effort into making digital solutions as easy to use and deploy as possible, starting with three of the most pressing issues in the sector: reducing non-revenue water, preventing pollution from sewers, and ensuring the reliability of treatment assets. 

These digital solutions are based on systems and products that have already been successfully deployed

This new series of self-service solutions allows the application of advanced AI to typical challenges in the water and wastewater industry, with no specialized skills required. The solutions share five principles that promote adoption: First, the required sensors can be connected to the cloud without the need for specialized expertise, and data appear in the application in less than two hours. Second, AI training and deployment begin automatically on the day of installation. Third, the solutions feature a cybersecure design, and fourth, the solutions come with prebuilt connectors (via Mendix low code) to other IT systems such as enterprise resource planning and work management systems. Finally, all solutions will typically pay for themselves in less than 36 months.

Digital solutions already proving their worth

These principles have been tried and tested, explains Lete: “These digital solutions are based on systems and products that have already been successfully deployed.” For example, the SIWA Leak Finder application uses the same AI-based leak detection that has helped the Swedish utility VA SYD detect leaks as small as 0.5 l per second. The AI can also analyze flow data and integrate the resulting profile with hydraulic model outputs to enhance leak localization to within 200 m. “We are confident that we can reduce the amount of non-revenue water by up to 50%, saving money and resources,” says Lete. Combining this technology with another proven solution for meter data management expands the data analytics system from treatment plants to customer taps. Utilities will then be able to calculate the true water balance and even detect illegal connections and abstractions, which present major challenges for many utilities and are notoriously difficult to detect through other means. The SIWA Blockage Predictor, a solution for detecting sewer blockages to reduce river pollution, was reported to be 90% accurate during a recent trial. This AI solution is able to predict water depths using rainfall data, compare the prediction to the measured depth using a fuzzy logic algorithm, and alert the utility to significant differences in behavior. A response team can then visit the asset and remove the blockage that exists or is forming.

Smart asset monitoring with AI

Another area where AI can be extremely powerful is asset monitoring, and this is exactly the area Siemens is targeting with a self-service application for smart condition monitoring. Using this solution, Scottish Water moved from a scheduled maintenance approach to preventive maintenance. By monitoring the condition of assets using advanced algorithms and real-time data, plant operators can know in advance when an asset is likely to fail due to wear or damage – and the application is able to give utilities weeks to months of early warning prior to critical equipment failure, reducing unplanned downtime and the associated costs.

Riding the digital wave

Siemens will present these self-service solutions at IFAT 2024, as a subset of the company’s solutions for electrification and automation, along with integrated digital technologies and services that cover the water cycle from seawater desalination to water and wastewater treatment to water network management. Visitors can actually onboard a sensor themselves and see the application live and in action – demonstrating the maturity and outstanding ease of use of the new digital solutions. To learn more about how digital solutions can drive sustainability and efficiency, Lete and Cartwright recommend that you visit the Siemens water industry website – “or simply get in touch with your local Siemens sales representative.”

Dr. Adam Cartwright, Director Industry Strategy Water and Wastewater Software, Siemens

For five years, Dr. Adam Cartwright has led a cross-functional team of engineers, data scientists, and developers responsible for leading the global development of Siemens’ digital applications for the water and wastewater industry. After starting his career in the steel industry, he moved on to receive his doctorate before working for the UK government. In government, Cartwright focused on how climate change policies impact business; he also led the development of the UK government’s strategic relationship management program. Immediately prior to taking up his current role, he was head of open innovation at Siemens UK, where he supported Siemens’ nearly 200 collaborations with UK universities.

Ainhoa Lete, CEO of BuntPlanet

Ainhoa Lete started her career as an engineer at Siemens in Munich, working on digitalization projects in various industry sectors. In 2000, she became the co-founder and CEO of BuntPlanet, a company that provides innovative solutions for water management and conservation. Working at the intersection between water and digitalization, Lete led the vision and strategy of the company until its recent acquisition by Siemens. Her team has developed and launched multiple products and services that leverage AI, big data, and hydraulic modeling to optimize water resources and reduce environmental impact. She has received several awards and honors, including Best Entrepreneur Gipuzkoa 2021, the Entrepreneurship Award from Fundación CEDE, and the Top 100 Innovative Leaders Award from Diario Empresa.