Ahead of the World Water-Tech Innovation Summit, we spoke to Jay Iyengar, Senior Vice President & Chief Innovation and Technology Officer at Xylem who shares her insights on how Xylem is leading the digital transformation of water .

There is a lot of buzz around the digitisation of water and wastewater: what does this mean to Xylem and the customers you serve around the world?

Water challenges are escalating all over the globe, and the need for massive investment in water infrastructure to address these issues is growing more urgent. According to OECD estimates, $1.3 trillion needs to be invested to annually upgrade and maintain water infrastructure in developing countries and emerging markets. But research indicates that utilities can save between $7 to $12.5 billion each year by implementing smart water solutions that reduce operational inefficiencies and optimise capital expenditures.

As more utilities embrace smart water, they will be able to shift resources to data-driven preventative maintenance and away from far more expensive emergency interventions. This will drive quantum gains in water efficiency, productivity and safety, allowing the water sector to scale to meet the world’s escalating water challenges. We’ve seen how digital technologies have transformed other industries. Now digital transformation is happening here in the water sector, and it truly is the opportunity of a lifetime. Xylem is a Fortune 1000 company and the largest pure play water technology company in the world. We provide world-class solutions and expertise across the water cycle, and we are committed to helping lead the digital transformation of water.

What areas of innovation are delivering the most value for the industry and why?

Cutting-edge technologies are creating major value across the water cycle. Here are three examples:

The first relates to the issue of water scarcity. Thames Water is the largest water and wastewater services provider in the UK. As London and the South East of England are already severely water-stressed areas, the utility wished to prevent a predicted shortfall in water supply by investing in smart water technologies that would enhance the productivity of its operations. Thames Water installed a smart network that delivers comprehensive, accurate daily data reads across the entire network. This data helps the utility address water loss and identify supply issues such as continuous use that can indicate non-revenue water (NRW) or wastage. The smart network, based on actual usage, also empowers Thames Water customers to understand their water consumption via an online usage report. As a result, individual consumption among those using the meters has been reduced by 13 percent.

The next example also addresses water scarcity through the lens of non-revenue water. New digital technologies are offering powerful ways to detect water losses and prevent major investment in repairs. For instance, the Evides Watercompany in the Netherlands has been able to deploy leading-edge pipeline condition assessment technology to deliver precise, actionable data, helping pinpoint the exact locations of anomalies in the transmission steel pipe between Rotterdam and The Hague. This Smart Water solution produced an estimated capital savings of 1.1M Euros.

The third example is about resiliency challenges. Like Israel and Singapore, the city of Los Angeles decided to turn to recycled water several years ago to help its water system and citizens address the severe water issues in their region. Xylem had the privilege of playing a role in helping develop the technology for the Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant. We installed the first-ever large-scale UV/chlorine process to treat wastewater to drinking water standards, creating a critical new tool to combat water scarcity challenges. The plant can purify and recycle more than 12 million gallons of water per day.

The fourth area where technology is driving profound progress is affordability. A decade ago, the City of South Bend was in the middle of a combined sewer overflow crisis, with 1 to 2 billion gallons of sewer polluted water being dumped into the river annually. They were facing an $860 million Long Term Control Plan, which meant a $10,000 burden per citizen. But City officials implemented an AI-powered solution from a start-up named EmNet. Through a system of smart sensors and actuators, water flow can trade back and forth in a sewer system, like an underground stock market, to avoid flooding when a storm hits. This reduced the need to build large tunnels and storage tanks. As a result, overflow volumes have been reduced by more than 70 percent, or 1 billion gallons a year. And the city of South Bend saved $500 million. EmNet, which is now a part of Xylem, has gone on to work with more 20 cities in North America, and help clients save more $3.5 billion.

How can utilities optimise and amplify the power of big data and analytics in particular?

Building smarter cities and communities takes technology and networking solutions with in-depth views and infrastructure control. Our Sensus FlexNet® AMI communication network is a long-range radio network that provides scalable and reliable two-way infrastructure. The system receives data not only around customer usage, but also from meters and other sensors that assist in optimising the operation of electric, water, gas, and outdoor lighting systems to reduce costs and improve safety and customer satisfaction.

Here’s an example: Eastern Municipal Water District in Southern California deployed the Sensus FlexNet AMI communication network to improve operations and meet the needs of a growing population. The utility now relies on the FlexNet system to read meters remotely, a vast improvement over manual reads. The utility can now also detect leaks sooner and better serve its growing customer base. The technology has improved the utility’s meter read accuracy and enabled them to alert 2,600 customers about potential leaks.

Just this month, the City of Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) selected Sensus to deliver smart water technology for its Metering and Customer Service Program. PWD provides services to more than 1.7 million people in Philadelphia. The AMI deployment will allow the City to provide real-time access to water usage data, strengthening customer service and allowing customers to manage their water usage more effectively.

Where do you see the digital evolution heading over the next 12 to 18 months? What new opportunities and challenges might emerge?

The industry will continue to see an acceleration of products coming to market that have some form of intelligence and connectivity. In particular, artificial intelligence will begin to emerge in the water sector more predominantly. The possibilities will really be limitless. With the collective power of the Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics, machine learning and advanced control theory algorithms, the future of water is coming to life today. These advances are transforming what is possible through unprecedented intelligence and infrastructure optimisation. But to fully realise the opportunity, there needs to be further collaboration among the various stakeholders to enhance the exponential value that this revolution can bring.

What are you most looking forward to at the 2019 World Water-Tech Innovation Summit? Who would you like to meet with?

I’m looking forward to connecting with thought leaders, learning more about what others are doing in technology and looking for new ways to collaborate and partner with peers to expand our innovation ecosystem and drive progress – so we can find new solutions for water operators and the people and communities they serve. We want to expand the “us” in “Let’s Solve Water” – Xylem’s mission.

Jay will be speaking on the Day 2 opening panel Making the Digital Difference: Big Data and the Analytics of Things, at the World Water-Tech Innovation Summit.

To find out more about Xylem, visit xylem.com or follow on Twitter @XylemInc.