Digitisation of water systems is the path forward

Xylem spoke to Inside Water about how it is using digital technology to move forward and support communities through the proper monitoring of water systems.

Approximately 2.3 billion. That’s the number of people who suffer from water stress on the planet. Then there are the almost 18 million people displaced annually due to floods. As those of us who live in Queensland and New South Wales can attest, that displacement has been highlighted over the past decade with ‘once-in-a-century’ floods hitting both states regularly, with water systems undergoing increasing stress.

It was these kinds of statistics that got water technology provider Xylem to get its own house in order and commissioned its 2021 Sustainability Report. The report highlighted three main areas of focus that not only Xylem intends to embrace, but that the wider community should also look to. The uses for the world’s three per cent of potable water gets stretched as the planet’s population gets bigger.

The three areas are:

  • First, to help its customers and communities be effective in their use of water. In other words, streamline its use and reuse so the most can be made out of the diminishing resource using the latest technologies.
  • Second, provide solutions to help decarbonise the water sector, thus help reduce greenhouse gases.
  • Lastly, making sure this precious resource is shared equally throughout all countries and sectors of society. This is the social responsibility of the equation.

Water systems key to living well

Brian Krishna is the Australia and New Zealand managing director of Xylem. He has been with the company for 11 years in various roles having spent the previous seven years before that at its predecessor, ITT Water and Wastewater.

Krishna is a person who takes these three priorities to heart as he helps drive the company to achieving these goals.

“We need to live in a world where water’s not a barrier to human health, or prosperity. It can deliver what we need to work on when it comes to sustainable practices,” said Krishna.

Digitisation is a key step towards the sustainability angle. As Krishna points out, when these systems are in place, the data collected can quickly help remedy any negative impacts – from plugging leaks that are found, to getting information on how best to utilise water without wasting it.

“Digital technology can help our customers analyse these things,” Krishna said. “They can also help peripherally with things like greenhouse gas reduction, which is using technology to help with energy savings. In other words, using more efficient, optimised solutions that provide both short and long-term benefits.”

Over his time at Xylem Krishna has seen the transformation in some industries, like mining for example. He says mining is an industry that has not only changed some of the ways it does things, but sometimes gets treated unfairly . The industry is a huge user of water, and will be so for the foreseeable future.

“The reality is that to save the planet, we need to dig more ore out of the Earth to electrify and decarbonise the globe,” he said. “We will need more minerals like nickel and copper, and then all the rare earth metals like lithium and cobalt to help reach those goals. We need a short- and long-term plan to get there in the right way and as sustainably as possible.”

Which brings us to the third purpose the Xylem finds important – making water accessible to all those that need it.

Digitisation and water systems working hand in hand

“We work alongside partners like WaterAid in Australia, as well, around the wash programme, which is all about water, sanitation and hygiene,” he said. “These issues don’t just exist in below the poverty line communities in other parts of the world. Some of those issues, particularly around education around water use and sustainability, exist in advanced manufacturing plants in Australia. They exist in communities in Australia.”

Having been involved in the water industry for more than a decade, Krishna knows that education is one of the key elements moving forward. The more people know about water resources, the more data they collect, and the more they analyse the data, not only do they better understand the issues, but they can start acting on remedying some of the underlying problems that need to be dealt with.

“At the end of the day, every drop counts,” said Krishna. “Only three per cent of the world’s water is potable. That three per cent has only ever been on the earth since the dinosaurs. We can’t generate any more water because we just don’t have it. The way we use water today, and how we recycle it, is vitally important to our future. That’s why education is important, particularly in city communities where there is still a lot of wastage occurring.”

Areas where data collection is important, and where Xylem products can help in terms of digitisation, include the pumping and transporting of water, as well as water and wastewater treatment.

“Treatment includes various advanced technologies, such as UV disinfection, and ozonation,” said Krishna. “It could also be aeration in a wastewater tank. We have several technologies that can work together to provide an optimal outcome. Ee have optimisation tools that can reduce energy in a wastewater plant by between 20 to 30 per cent. It’s possible using artificial intelligence and things like digital twins.”

Technology developing with water systems

He said a lot of technology improves over time. All of the products and services Xylem has provided to industry and the community over the past 100 years are now in digital form so can help transform industries as they move forward in this space.

“They have all been face-lifted to have a digital connection, even our wastewater sewage pumps,” Krishna said,. “We released a product five years ago called Concertor. That’s now got digital capability to optimise the sewage pump cycle. It will only use the energy required at the demand. That is saving huge amounts of net energy or greenhouse gas and the carbon footprint.”

The other area the company is working on is in the testing and analytics space. This includes equipment such as advanced water monitoring systems.

“For extreme weather events we have systems that can help provide early warning support,” he said. “They are resilient in wet weather events and help with things like deploying emergency pump systems or diverting water in an overflow system into empty pipes. A lot of network support can be done to avoid flooding in the underground network. This is because there’s sometimes empty pipes in there that we can move water into. We can then try and store it in that location while there’s an extreme event happening.

“The analytics is a really important part of our business for determining the health and quality of waterways, particularly after any major event. 

“To understand what’s been the outcome of an event, as far as the effect on water systems goes, is important. We do a lot of continuous monitoring in that space to help us get all of that analytical information across to customers so they’re seeing eye to eye with the data in those reports.” 

For more information visit www.xylem.com/en-au

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