The smart water revolution

Victoria Lietha, ABB Technology Ventures, Zurich.

External innovators can lend great impetus to new product development. By teaming up with just such an external partner – TaKaDu – ABB can now, in addition to its existing water business portfolio, offer water utilities solutions that leverage the full potential of digitization.

Hugh Courtney, President of the International Partnership of Business Schools, a consortium of leading business institutions that aims to elevate global business education, is credited with saying, “in a globally competitive economic environment, the only source of sustained competitive advantage has to come through innovation.” Traditionally, the innovation that is so vital for new business development came from inside the business.  In recent years, however, the speed, depth and complexity of technological development have forced enterprises to rethink their approach to innovation and seek inspiration from outside the company. In many cases, collaboration with external agents has become an indispensable strategy when trying to stay ahead of the competition. ABB has long followed such a path, with notable success In 2009, external collaboration was taken to a new level with the formation of ABB Technology Ventures (ATV), ABB’s strategic venture capital investment arm. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, Silicon Valley and Chennai, India, ATV partners and invests in breakthrough technology startups that drive strategic value for ABB.

ATV’s partnership with TaKaDu, which dates from 2012, provides a perfect example of how an ATV investment can lead to a better offering and new customers
ATV’s partnership with TaKaDu, which dates from 2012, provides a perfect example of how an ATV investment can lead to a better offering and new customers

Let’s talk water

Water presents some of the world’s most pressing social, political and economic challenges, and water crises rank among the top ten global societal risks in terms of impact, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018.

More concretely, the UN predicts that half of the world’s population will not have access to clean water, enough water or water at all by 2030 should consumption and pollution issues not be adequately addressed. The factors contributing to more demand for water, such as climate change, population growth, new ways of living - and thus changes in domestic, commercial and industrial water consumption - are amplified by factors on the supply side.

On top of inadequate infrastructure investment, the World Bank estimates global water loss due to leaks and bursts at 25 to 30 percent, representing a $20 billion annual cost savings opportunity. Typically, utilities either have no data, or if they have it, they do not analyze it, depriving themselves of visibility into their water network. Repairs are carried out reactively and rarely in a planned way. Often, the first indication of trouble is when a concerned citizen reports water flowing down the street.

TaKaDu technology to save the day

The good news is that new technologies can help to solve the problem. By using digital technologies, data analytics and algorithms based on artificial intelligence (AI), utilities and cities are better equipped to manage demand for, and supply of, clean water and thus extract more value from their physical water infrastructure. Amongst the pioneers introducing these new technologies into the water industry is an Israeli company with which ABB’s ATV has gone into partnership: TaKaDu [1].

According to Amir Peleg, Founder and CEO of TaKaDu, no one takes water for granted in Israel a country in which water is in very short supply indeed →1. In fact, about 50 percent of Israel’s drinking water comes from desalination plants – an expensive option – with agriculture irrigation using recycled wastewater (over 85 percent of Israel’s wastewater is reused, the highest percent- age in the world).

The trigger for Amir Peleg’s venture into the water industry came around the time in summer 2008 when he had to reduce his own water consumption due to regional drought. He then found out that the local utilities were losing 15 to 20 percent of the water they were pumping into the network. On top of this, a chance conversation with an engineer brought home to Amir the realization of the inefficient situation in which many water utilities find themselves: Though they lose, on average, 25 to 30 percent of their water and collect a substantial quantity of raw data pertaining to their leaky water networks, very little use is made of this data to provide insight into the state of the water system or to support decision making. From this epiphany, TaKaDu was born.

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