Category Archives: Water and Business

Smart Water: Tech Guarding Our Most Precious Resource





Now, with the global population topping seven billion and demand for water set to increase to unprecedented levels, new technologies are helping us make smarter use of this finite essential for life. (BBC)

Now, with the global population topping seven billion and demand for water set to increase to unprecedented levels, new technologies are helping us make smarter use of this finite essential for life.

According to the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050, global water demand is projected to increase by 55% between 2000 and 2050, by which time more than 40% of the global population may be under severe water stress.

Put starkly: when there is not enough water to go around, famine, war and death are never far behind. But according to the World Bank we lose about 50 billion cubic metres of water a year through leaks and bursts alone.

Free-flowing data

This is something TaKaDu, based in Yehud, Israel, is addressing with big data analytics cloud-based software.

TaKaDu screenshotTaKaDu’s data analytics takes information gathered across the water network and works out how it is performing

It processes data supplied by sensors and meters dotted around a water company’s supply network, and combines this with information such as domestic and industrial water usage patterns and weather, to build a sophisticated picture of how the network is behaving.

“We turn raw data into knowledge,” says TaKaDu’s Moshe Tamir.

“We built a very smart algorithm that can spot anomalies in the network’s behaviour, from a small leak to a burst water main, enabling water utilities to plan and react much faster than before. And when you save water you save energy.”

Burst pipe in KolkataBurst pipes like this one in Kolkata in India cost companies millions of dollars in lost revenue

Mr Tamir says a Portuguese client saved one million euros in 2012 after TaKaDu’s software helped it reduce water lost through leakage – known as non-revenue water (NRW) – from 25.2% to 17.2% in a year.

Even a very efficient water network will experience about 10% NRW, says Mr Tamir. Inefficient ones with lots of leaks, unauthorised siphoning and poor monitoring can see this rise to 50%.

“Our software can tell utilities where to concentrate their efforts and even identify meters that are less reliable than others,” he says.

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The problem is that the water industry is incredibly conservative”

Ian ElkinsGlobal Water Intelligence

In countries such as India, water networks – where they exist at all – can be spread over wide areas. Data collection often has to be done manually.

Upgrading to meters that transmit data wirelessly, powered by turbines inside the water pipes, could save millions of dollars, Mr Tamir believes.

Sensing savings

According to research, the latest smart water networks could save the industry $12.5bn (£8bn) a year.

“There has been a big increase in the number of companies offering IT-based products aimed at helping businesses and farmers use more water more efficiently,” says Ian Elkins, editor of Global Water Intelligence, a business research organisation.

“The problem is that the water industry is incredibly conservative. There is plenty of innovation going on, but it generally takes about seven years for a start-up to reach a commercially sustainable position.”

With about 70% of the world’s fresh water supply being used for agricultural irrigation, and global demand for food rising inexorably, there is huge scope – and need – for technological innovation.

Hatzerim jojoba plantation in IsraelDrip irrigation technology like this, at the Hatzerim jojoba plantation in Israel, really can make the desert bloom

Netafim, another Israeli company, specialises in drip irrigation technology and recently won the 2013 Stockholm Industry Water Award.

Now more than 10 million hectares of farmland are irrigated using drip irrigation techniques designed to use less water, more efficiently. Crop yields can be increased by 15% to 40%.

While the concept of drip irrigation has been around since the Persians, the technology has advanced markedly.

Flexible pipe systemThe Netafim drip irrigation pipes are designed to be flexible for maximum coverage

It includes precisely controlled nutrient and water delivery systems, wireless monitoring using sophisticated atmospheric sensors, and self-cleaning subterranean pipes that reduce the amount of irrigation water lost through evaporation and mitigate contamination from surface water run-off.

Almost all aspects of crop planning, planting, growth and harvesting can be controlled using software linked to these systems.

This is helping to reduce agricultural water usage by as much as 80% in some cases.

As a result, Netafim chief executive Igal Aisenberg expects the amount of agricultural land watered by drip irrigation to rise from 5% to 25% over the next 10 years. But why is it still only 5%?

Ari Schweitzer, Netafim’s chief technology officer says: “Drip irrigation is more expensive than other systems – roughly $1,000 to $3,000 per hectare – and is perceived to be more complex. And as we know farmers are a conservative lot. But return on investment can be as low as one year.

“Our strategy today is to reduce cost and complexity so that our technology can be available to every farmer around the world.”

Stormy weather

Other companies blazing a trail in the growing “smart irrigation” sector include HydroPoint Data Systems, based in Petaluma, California.

Its WeatherTRAK hardware and software products optimise irrigation schedules by taking into account soil type, landscape, and weather conditions, as well as plant type.

Put simply, if there’s just been a downpour, you don’t need to waste money watering the golf course. Some of HydroPoint’s commercial clients claim 60% water reduction after using the system.

Big business certainly has a financial interest in reducing its water usage.

Global food and drink giant Pepsico, whose brands include Pepsi, Gatorade, Tropicana and Frito Lay, makes about $66bn in annual sales and uses about 100 billion litres of water a year to make its drinks and potato snacks.

Using technology like this Pepsico is recycling up to 75% of its waterPepsico is recycling up to 75% of its water at the Frito Lay plant in Casa Grande, Arizona

Dan Bena, the company’s senior director of sustainable development, told the BBC: “In 2012 we managed to reduce our water consumption by 14 billion litres, saving us $15m. We met our 20% water reduction goal four years early in 2011.”

Using membrane bio reactor and reverse osmosis technology in its Frito Lay plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, the company is now recycling up to 75% of its water supply and filtering it to drinking water standards.

At its British Walkers Crisps plant in Leicester, the water escaping as steam from potatoes being turned into crisps is captured and re-used, while Gatorade bottles are now regularly cleaned with high-pressure air rather than water.

And drip-irrigation techniques in China, the world’s biggest potato producer, have helped increase yields by 16% while reducing water usage by 40% at one Frito Lay farm.

Frito Lay farm in Xiangfan, ChinaThis farm in China grows potatoes destined to become Frito Lay crisps, using drip irrigation to increase yield

“We believe in getting more crop per drop”, says Mr Bena.

The problem with water is unlike energy sources, there is no alternative.

It is difficult to transport, expensive to treat, and extracting drinking water from sea water takes vast amounts of energy. This is why water has traditionally lagged behind in the cleantech investment stakes, says Global Water Intelligence’s Ian Elkins.

In 2012, just 5.4% of the $6.5bn venture capital invested in the cleantech sector went towards water technology projects, according to US research company Cleantech Group.

While progress is clearly being made, this investment trickle will have to turn into a flood if technology is to answer the world’s pressing water scarcity issues.



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New Cleantech Fund is Aimed at Financing a Resource Revolution


We already have much of the technology we need to address climate change and other resources scarcity related challenges. It is often economics, more specifically a lack of financing that creates barriers to its use. Amid a prediction that the era of falling energy, food and water prices is over comes a fund that invests in private and public projects of any size. (Guardian)

Is the world running out of energy, food and water? Or not? The debate has raged since Thomas Malthus wrote “An essay on the principle of population” in 1798.

In 2011, McKinsey & Co, the esteemed consulting group, provided a modicum of support to modern-day Malthusians. It published Resource Revolution: meeting the world’s energy, materials, food and water needs, a voluminous and influential report. It acknowledged that, until recently, new technology had overcome any so-called limits to growth, but warned of big challenges ahead.

“During most of the 20th century, the prices of natural resources such as energy, food, water and materials such as steel all fell, supporting economic growth in the process,” the consultants wrote. “But that benign era appears to have come to an end.” If current trends continue, governments and companies will face high and volatile commodity prices, unpredictable climate impacts and the threat of political instability if the needs of the world’s poor are not met. “Nothing less than a resource revolution is needed,” said McKinsey, and it will not be cheap: “Meeting future demand for steel, water agricultural products and energy would require roughly $3tn (about £2tn) average capital investment per year [which is] $1tn more than spent in recent history.”

Scott Jacobs, a leader of McKinsey’s global cleantech practice, sensed an opportunity. He decided to help raise some of that capital and to help save the planet in the process. Last year, Jacobs, who is 35, left McKinsey, and joined veteran investors Tom Cain, 58, and Charlie Finnie, 54, to form EFW Partners, an investment fund that focuses on environmentally-friendly ways to produce energy, food and water, as well as opportunities to use resources more efficiently.

“We believe that energy, food and water are generally scarce, and growing scarcer because of macro-economic trends,” Jacobs told me recently, after he spoke at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference.

Long-term investors stand to profit by financing the resource revolution, he says. More importantly, they will be better able to prepare their portfolios for the risks of resource shocks. Traditional diversification – across asset classes or across geographies – does not go far enough to protect investors against the impacts of climate change, or against food or energy scarcity, or drought, Jacobs says.

“Unfortunately, shocks to energy, food and water affect everything,” he adds. “We’re saying that risk management is broken.” Most investors were overexposed to risk and underexposed to opportunity.

So far, EFW Partners has raised between $50m and $500m (about £30m-£300m) – the partners would not be more specific – from foundations, endowments and accredited, ie, well-to-do, individuals. They include Tom Steyer, the climate-change activist and billionaire founder of hedge fund Farallon Capital; Rob Walton, the chairman of Walmart; and Bob Fisher, a director of Gap and the son of Gap founder Donald Fisher. Arizona State University is also an investor.

While venture capitalists invest in clean tech startups, “green” mutual funds invest in public companies and banks finance solar or wind projects, EFW is unusual because it will invest in private and public companies of any size, anywhere along the capital continuum, as well as engage in project finance.

Some of its investments will bet on innovation. “We need to reinvent the world when it comes to energy, food and water,” Jacobs says. Others will finance infrastucture and real assets; everything from solar farms to agricultural land. “That’s about rebuilding the world,” he says.

Thematically, this sounds sensible, but what does it look like in practice? EFW Partners’ investments include:

• Forced Physics, a startup company which is developing a nanotechnology-based refrigeration system that uses air as a refrigerant and produces no greenhouse gases or ozone-depleting pollutants. “They have a game-changing efficiency technology,” says Jacobs.

• SNTech, a private company that makes electric motors for heating, cooling, refrigeration, pools and spas. The company says its motors use 80% less electricity than conventional air-conditioning motors.

• Sungevity, a firm that finances and develops rooftop solar systems, leasing its panels to homeowners so they don’t have to make a capital investment. Co-founder Danny Kennedy is a former Greenpeace activist.

EFW is still looking for its first infrastructure project. It has talked with the developers of a 30MW solar farm being planned for south of Indianapolis, said to be the largest solar project in the midwest. Buying stakes in real assets, like solar farms or agricultural land, should provide EFW with predictable cash flow, in contrast to its equity investments, which are more speculative. The company hasn’t made any food or water investments yet.

If the McKinsey consults who warned of resource scarcity are right, Jacobs and his colleagues at EFW Partners should do well, as should their investors. But as I read the McKinsey report, I could not help recalling the most famous investment – well, it was actually a bet – in the history of resource scarcity. It was made in 1980 by Paul Ehrlich, the famed author of The Population Bomb, and economist Julian Simon. Ehrlich bet that the prices of five commodities (chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten) would rise over the next decade. Simon bet they would be lower. Ehrlich lost: 10 years later, all five commodities’ prices were lower. Then again, if they had extended the bet for another decade or two, Ehrlich would have won. Which only goes to show: predictions are hard, especially about the future.


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The ‘Sink-Urinal’ Saves Water, Encourages Men To Wash Hands


Small ideas such as this can have a huge multiplier effect in the quest for saving water. How creativity and innovation can lead to solving one of world’s wasteful habits in restrooms – flushing and washing hands separately.

A Latvian designer named Kaspars Jursons is trying to help solve European water shortages by redesigning the men’s restroom. His new urinal design includes a tap and sink right over it.

“It’s not just a fancy piece of art,” he says. “The idea is about function and consumption. You are washing your hands in the sink on top of the urinal, and the same water that’s running is also used to flush. You don’t have to use water twice, like when you use the urinal and wash your hands in separate sink.”

The design, called Stand, sells for about $590 per unit. They’re getting manufactured on a small production line and have already sold to buyers in Norway, Germany, Russia, Poland and Jursons’ home country, Latvia.

Several sink-urinals are currently installed in a concert venue in Riga, Latvia, where Jursons reports they have worked smoothly and saved thousands of liters of water.

The tap is hands-free and sensor-activated, and Jursons says having the sink right over the urinal gives it another feature: an in-your-face reminder to wash your hands.

When asked whether folks might find the sink and the urinal a little too close for comfort, Jursons says, “It is more suitable for hygiene than just a urinal and then guys who don’t wash [their] hands.”

Ladies, if you think your restrooms deserve new design concepts too, stay tuned. Jursons says his next concept is a sink-toilet combo that not only saves water, but saves a lot of bathroom space.


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IBM’s Smart Tech Aids Water Management


How using “big data” is helping cities to drastically reduce costs on water management without building a whole new infrastructure system.

Some of the most compelling, early smart-city strategies are bubbling up in municipal and commercial water management. That’s partly because budget shortfalls are making it tough to invest in new infrastructure. Yet wastewater runoff and leaky pipes can cost cities thousands of dollars annually, in excess billing or regulatory fines.

The city of South Bend, Ind., has used the IBM Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) dashboard since late 2011 to view data pooled from across city agencies. This has reduced wet weather wastewater overflows by 23 percent, and almost entirely eliminated dry-weather incidents such as clogged sewers. Not only did it sidestep $120 million in infrastructure upgrades along the way, but the application is helping to avoid some $600,000 in potential government fines.

The city of 500,000 used a local IT services company, Emnet, to create and deploy the cloud-hosted tool.

“Anticipating and preventing incidents before they happen is key,” said Gary Gilot, member of the South Bend board of public works, when the deal was announced. “Viewing all our aggregated data in real time via the IBM SmartCloud will help us predict where incidents can occur and safeguard our citizens.”

South Bend apparently was the first city to start managing its water consumption and flow using a cloud-based service. Its water distribution system includes eight production facilities, four filtration plants and more than 600 miles of distribution pipes. The wastewater utility manages 500 miles of sewers.

Using IBM’s IOC dashboard and analytics, the city has reduced the flow of water through treatment plants by almost 10 million gallons per day, simply by better keeping river waste out. It also reportedly predicts basement flooding more accurately during heavy rainfalls and directs water utility crews there proactively.

Over the past decade, South Bend has deployed more than 116 smart valves throughout its system to collect the necessary data. It turned to IBM when it became clear that it needed helping interpreting the data – but didn’t have the money for substantial IT infrastructure investment. Instead, the city spent about $400,000 on a proof-of-concept installation, and it took a project manager approximately five hours per week for six months to prepare. Following early positive results, the solution extended to the entire city. While IBM doesn’t disclose the annual subscription costs, South Bend is realizing an average benefit of about $326,321, according to a case study from February. The payback started within one and a half years.

“By using the information they were already collecting and being proactive, they were able to avoid massive outlays,” said Carey Hidaka, client solution professional for the Chicago office of IBM Software, a civil engineer specializing in water.

Is it a leak or higher-than-usual evaporation?

Miami-Dade County in Florida is a much newer IBM smart water customer, but the solution it is developing will have a dramatic impact on conservation – starting with the roughly 260 parks it supports.

Across this system, more than 300 water and sewer accounts were using approximately 360 million gallons of water annually, estimated Jack Kardys, director of Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces. At one time, one of its golf courses held the dubious honor of being among the top five users of potable water in the United States, he said.

One of the biggest sources of waste across the system have been leaks and things that are far easier to address, such as when someone leaves a hose running at one of the county’s close to 1,000 boat slips that offer freshwater rinse services. But the only insight that park managers previously received were the water bills – by the time some detected an anomaly, a leak or open valve could be running for days if not weeks. “We were lucky to find them after the fact,” Kardys said.

By piggybacking on Miami-Dade’s larger cross-county partnership with IBM, the parks department now expects to save up to $1 million per year on its water bills. Its IBM application has allowed it to set monitoring parameters for valves, triggering an alert if they run for more than a certain time.

Overall, the county expects to reduce water consumption by 20 percent through the new solution, Kardys estimated.


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India Seeks Water Management Lessons From Israel


As Indian municipal officials and water engineers search for ways to provide cleaner water to their nation’s 1.2 billion people, they are increasingly turning to Israel. (NYT)

TEL AVIV – As Indian municipal officials and water engineers search for ways to provide cleaner water to their nation’s 1.2 billion people, they are increasingly turning to Israel, which has solved many of the same problems that India is now experiencing.

Last week, a delegation of 16 high-ranking Indian officials of the water authorities of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Goa and Haryana arrived in Israel for a seven-day visit. They visited wastewater treatment plants, met with some of Israel’s leading environmentalists and agronomists and listened to explanations of some of the newest technologies that keep this desert country green.

“In India, we have a major crisis of water,” said Rajeev Jain, an assistant engineer in the water department of Rajasthan. “Our problem is the same that Israel faced,” he said, noting that Rajasthan, home to 63 million people, has a similar climate and groundwater resources that are meager at best.

“But Israel is an expert at successfully implementing technologies that we aren’t able to implement. So we have come here to understand which technologies they use and how they manage these things.”

The visit was jointly arranged by the governments of India and Israel and managed by the Weitz Center for Development Studies and Israel NewTech, the national sustainable water and energy program of Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.

Israel has been a global leader in the fields of drip irrigation and desalination, two ventures for which it has contributed groundbreaking technology. These technologies helped the country of eight million pull itself out of a severe water crisis in the early 2000s.

While Israel’s primary investments in India remain in the realm of diamonds and information technology, more and more shekels are being invested in Indian water systems.

The two countries began working with each other on water technology in the late 1990s. In 2006, Israeli and Indian ministers of agriculture signed a long-term cooperation and training deal, which has since been supervised by field experts from Mashav, an international development program of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Next came a $50 million shared agriculture fund between both nations, focusing on dairy, farming technology and micro-irrigation. And Netafim, the Israeli company that pioneered drip irrigation, has created new technologies in Jharkhand specifically calibrated for the small family farms scattered across India.

In 2011, India and Israel signed an agreement to foster cooperation on urban water systems, which came after more than a decade of joint research, development and shared investment in the countries’ respective water technologies.

Israeli officials and green technology specialists saw last week’s visit as a preview to the influx of Indian officials they expect in October for the country’s annual conferenceon water technology and environmental control.

Oded Distel, director of NewTech, said the most significant lesson Israel can teach India is the Middle Eastern country’s unique approach. “It’s a system that balances the demand and available resources among the various sectors: municipal, industrial and agricultural,” he said.

Several delegates said they were shocked to learn how expensive water is in Israel and how all citizens, regardless of income or geographic region, must pay uniform tariffs and fees for the clean drinking water that flows into their taps.

It would be nearly impossible to adopt a similar model in India, Mr. Jain said. In India, much of the water generated by cities is illegally siphoned off by residents or lost to leaks, and in rural areas, most farmers get their water at no cost.

“In India, they consider water a gift from God. And everything God has given, no one can charge for it,” he said. “It is not easy to frame new policies, because we have to go to our assembly and Parliament first.”

But he said he was optimistic that some of the Israeli techniques for salvaging wastewater could be transferred to his home region. “In India, there are a lot of unauthorized connections to the water system, so maybe we can learn how to control the wastewater out of these connections,” he said.

On June 5, the group traveled to Kibbutz Naan, a cooperative community that is the largest in Israel, to see the manufacturing operations for NaanDanJain Irrigation, the world’s foremost irrigation solutions company. It is also a joint venture of Kibbutz Naan, another Israeli kibbutz called Kibbutz Dan and Jain Irrigations Systems of India.

Over a vegetarian lunch in the kibbutz cafeteria, where the tables were festooned with the flags of India and Israel, Sarban Singh, an Indian delegate from Haryana, said that last year he visited Singapore to learn about water technology and that he and his colleagues were also closely following innovations in Japan and Germany.

The water sector in Israel, he said, was nevertheless the most important to him and other Indian officials.

“This is what we feel,” he said. “The way they are able to take care of these two areas, drinking water and treatment of wastewater — they are soldiers and pioneers.”

For Mr. Singh, the most eye-opening technology that he saw during his time in Israel involved optimizing systems so that water can be provided at all times, which requires clean and secure reservoirs; tracking the liquid’s distribution into homes; and adding state-of-the-art water sensors on piping systems to pinpoint exactly where the precious resource is being lost.

Mr. Singh was quick to add, however, that between inspiration and implementation, many hurdles would present themselves in India.

“They are doing this on a very small scale, while we are doing it on a very large scale,” he said. “So even if we have the technology, we may not be as successful as they are. We welcome the technology, but before we can implement it, we have to see how much the manufacturing will cost and how much it benefits us at home.”


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