‘Double act’ could speed up water’s digital transformation
Utilities Digital Solutions Europe

‘Double act’ could speed up water’s digital transformation

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

A “double act” could speed up the EU’s digital transformation in water yet the mass of digital technologies now available may be compromising progress, says Gaëtane Suzenet.

Accelerating digital across the supply chain

A “digital double act” could help the sector comply with EU legislation and integrate the technologies necessary for the digitalisation of the water sector.

However, the mass of digital technologies now available may be compromising the water sector’s digital transformation progress, according to an investor.

The European Commission recently released a report detailing progress from five digital water projects, covering 22 demonstration cities across Europe.

The report referenced digital solutions including Earth Observation data, smart meters and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help water demand forecasting, detect abnormal flows or provide “decision-support” on control of wastewater treatment plants.

Such projects can contribute to the “implementation and improvement of the existing EU water-related legislation”, including the Water Framework Directive, the EC said.

An innovation hub driving digital

The five projects referenced include:

  • DWC - Digital-water.city - Leading urban water management to its digital future
  • FIWARE4Water - FIWARE for the Next Generation Internet Services for the WATER sector
  • NAIADES - A holistic water ecosystem for digitisation of urban water sector
  • SCOREwater - Smart City Observatories implement REsilient Water Management
  • aqua3S (Enhancing Standardisation strategies to integrate innovative technologies for Safety and Security in existing water networks).

The projects are part of the ICT4Water Cluster, an EU funded research and innovation Hub developing digital solutions for the water sector and managed by the Executive Agency for SMEs (EASME).

In total, the ICT4Water Cluster brings together around 60 projects.

Undisputed public funding

The projects have an average European contribution of approximately €5 million each.

“If we extend this average contribution to the 60 projects, we reach a financial figure that cannot dispute the important role of public funding and of the active role of the European Union in creating a leverage effect towards a digital water sector,” said Gaëtane Suzenet, managing partner, International Impact Partners.

“The digital transformation of the water sector is still in its infancy – why?”

She told Aquatech Online: “Yet, the digital transformation of the water sector is still in its infancy and piloting mode. Why?

“Reasons cannot be the lack of challenges to be addressed, nor can it be the lack of investment funding to help scale start-ups. Many investment funds are currently turning to digital water as they see the potential for a quick and high internal return rate.”

Supply and demand imbalance

However, Suzenet believes the plethora of digital solutions on the market could be causing more harm than good.

“Why is there a reluctance to take the plunge?” she asks. “There might be an issue related to an inflated number of projects, solutions and technologies that creates an imbalance between the supply and demand.

“The water sector is confronted with too many digital solutions and technologies.”

“The water sector is confronted with too many digital solutions and technologies. That creates a lack of confidence in the sector and concerns that technologies may not be appropriate or may fail.”

Suzenet concludes: “The digitalisation of the water sector cannot just be one-sided. The water sector must also be pro-active and express its needs for future innovation. This might then re-create a balance between the market demand and the technology supply, and shape a water sector, which is truly grounded in a forward-looking digital world.”

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