Europe Water storage Utilities

VIEWPOINT: Digital waves of innovation

Thursday, 5 October 2023

Joost Aloserij, director of business development, Central and North Europe at Xylem explores how the digital ripple effect is transforming water management in the current climate.

The value of digital

In the business of water, reliability and operational continuation is paramount. Often, water managers opt to avoid changes because they know the status quo works. This conservative approach is one reason why the water sector has been slower to digitise than others.

This outlook is starting to change as more utilities embrace innovation. Digital technology has built a significant track record of driving system efficiencies and improving operational reliability. As climate change impacts continue to strain critical infrastructure, the value of digital is well understood.

Utilities across Europe are harnessing the power of digital technology to modernise infrastructure. For some, digital is fast becoming an operational imperative. For others, there is work to do to prioritise digital strategies. Collaboration among stakeholders is key. The challenge with accelerating digital transformation is not a disbelief in its potential but a lack of knowing where to start or how to scale.

Harnessing the digital ripple effect

Thousands of water and wastewater utilities in Europe have a unique set of operational challenges. With no prescribed roadmap for success, less digitally mature utilities are often concerned that the return on investment is difficult to determine.

Our recent paper, Ripple Effect: A Movement Towards Digital Transformation, developed in collaboration with Bluefield Research, captures perspectives from global utility leaders and experts. While the group consulted for the paper spans the scope of utility sizes and resources, one common thread ran through each of their experiences – the need to embrace a thoughtful, systemic approach to digital adoption.

Most effective digital transformations are built incrementally over time. Success means setting a sustainable pace of change, putting quality data to work and building thoughtfully on each project. Putting strategy first and deploying solutions that explicitly align with strategic priorities, utilities at all stages can unlock the value of digital and create momentum for further innovation.

Utilities need a partner who can support them throughout their journey from data acquisition and integration to standardise the data sources, provide data insights, simulation, prediction and determine operational optimisation. Xylem brings through operational expertise that can be applied to daily operations to achieve direct benefits with Xylem Vue powered by GoAigua.

Innovation in Action

In the Netherlands, the water authority waterschap Aa en Maas is responsible for sustainably purifying 300,000 m3 of wastewater for more than 778,000 residents and businesses in the province of Noord Brabant.

The utility has prioritised investments in technology since the 1970’s. Fifty years into its digital transformation journey, it continues to explore and implement new technologies and iterate toward more sophisticated systems.

One wastewater network pilot project used decision intelligence to dynamically control assets. The resulting data showed the potential for digital optimisation to reduce flow toward its wastewater treatment plant by up to 30 percent.

The water authority is now looking at implementing optimisation solutions across its wider wastewater network to realise the combined impact on effluent quality through reduced energy and chemical use – a move that will ultimately allow the utility to meet its operational goals.