STIS Distills Key Drivers and Barriers to Innovation

SINGAPORE

Water is increasingly being recognized as one of the world’s most important challenges, and innovative solutions and technologies are vital to overcoming these challenges. Water innovation is needed now more than ever to leverage opportunities in the municipal and industrial markets -- yet the traditional view is that innovation and water do not mix due to various barriers to change.

 

The SIWW Technology and Innovation Summit (STIS) aims to generate discussions and develop consensus among global water experts on the key drivers of innovation and ways to overcome barriers to innovation.

With less than a week to go, STIS expects over 250 eminent delegates who will be in Singapore for the exclusive two-day Summit.

“We are very heartened by the overwhelming interest and are pleased to have so many leading experts with us in Singapore to share their insights on how we can create a blueprint for water solutions to meet the world’s water challenges,” said Harry Seah, Chief Technology Officer of PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency. Seah is also the Chairman of the International Program Committee, a 12-member team, who shaped the summit program and content with their diverse perspectives.

The STIS will see five key sessions, each chaired by a leading industry expert and a panel of speakers.

Forces reshaping our watery world

 

Ian Law, Chief Executive Officer, IBL Solutions and Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland, who is kick-starting the summit’s first session on “Forces Reshaping Our Water World,” identified the biggest issues facing the water sector today as “increasing population growth, and with that, a corresponding increase in food production, energy production and industrial output -- all of which require water of appropriate quality.”

“Will we be able to meet this increasing demand without changing the way we manage our water supplies today?” Since we do not have a complete understanding of the full magnitude, the answer lies in changing the way we manage our water supplies.

One of the main obstacles to innovation is “resistance to changing the ‘business as usual’ model of water management,” Law said. “The change has started in some countries but it has a long way to go in others and it will continue to require innovative solutions to be truly effective.”

Other obstacles include “non-recognition by some that there is a looming water crisis that will require innovative solutions to manage it in a sustainable way; governance systems and structures; a reluctance to be the first to apply an innovative technology; and a reluctance to consider the full range of non-conventional or alternative water sources rather than only considering the most politically acceptable solution, which often is not the most sustainable solution.”

“I sincerely hope that delegates will leave the session realizing that we do need to change the way we currently manage our valuable water stocks, and that there have been, and will continue to be, technologies and systems developed to help create and sustain this change in focus into the future,” Law said.

Global Solutions for Local Needs (Clean Water)

Jonathan Clement, CEO of PWN Technologies, who is chairing “Global Solutions for Local Needs (Clean Water),” noted that “local context is perhaps the strongest driver for innovation.”

“Innovation is spawned by a particular urgent problem, for which for they may not be an available or optimal solution. A specific solution can then be developed to solve that particular problem. This can in turn be used by others, either directly or adapted to meet the particular needs of the application.”

Matching innovation to local needs is made possible “by allowing the local stakeholders to be heavily involved in developing, implementing and owning solutions,” he said.

His session will offer an opportunity for “people [to] engage themselves in the dialogue -- make their voice and point heard” and “to challenge the experts to create a unified vision and blue print for technology development and innovation.”

Lessening Risk in Innovation

 

“Successful innovation hinges on strong leadership,” said Piers Clark, Managing Director, Global Water Development Partners, Blackstone Portfolio Company, who is chairing a session on “Lesser Risk Innovation.”

"The first step is to understand that good innovation is about taking measured risks,” said Clark. “You don’t ‘gamble the farm’ on a single idea but a good innovator places a series of sensible bets on different topics. A really good innovator doesn’t hide the failures, but instead publishes them widely and learns from them.”

If a company CEO “doesn’t value or understand the innovation process (which, critically, involves embracing failure as much as success) then, no matter how big the budgets, or how capable the team, the organization will not be a successful innovator. The shadow of a leader is particularly strong in water utilities.”

“I hope that the [STIS] delegates will all walk away with a greater insight into what they can do personally to enhance the innovation culture within their organization,” he said. “We have a rare opportunity to bring together some of the most important and influential people within the global water sector and have a real, deeply engaging discussion about what bits of innovation work and which do not, to explore opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other’s past experiences.”

In addition to rapid urbanization and associated challenges to the municipal water sector, water demand for industrial purposes has been on a steady rise worldwide. Overall, it is projected that the industrial water demand worldwide will make up 30 percent of total global water demand by 2025. Simultaneously, the volume of industrial wastewater generated is also increasing. Wastewater generated in these sectors and other sectors like electronics, oil and gas and mining present a tremendous opportunity to improve the degree of water recycling within industries, and is an area where innovative and cost-effective technologies could play a major role.

Global Solutions for Local Needs (Waste Water)

 

Continuing this thread is Cindy Wallis-Lage, President, Water Business at Black & Veatch.

“We have increasing populations, rising middle class, growth in water scarce locations -- all contributing to an increased water demand yet we have a fixed water supply,” said Wallis-Lage.“To address the increased demand we cannot continue to categorize wastewater as a waste; rather, we need to shift our perspective to focus on the valuable resource it provides for water, energy and other constituents such as nutrients. For a city to improve its water resilience, the water system must be viewed holistically.”

She said the session she is leading on “Global Solutions for Local Needs (Waste Water)” will discuss “hot topics” including: low energy and low footprint biological treatment, wastewater infrastructure, the need to remove/control trace organics, and the need for increased automation.

“Going forward, the rapid growth in many cities warrants consideration of decentralized treatment options and ideas such as sewer mining for reuse.  This approach creates opportunity for local reuse applications vs. constructing a large reuse system infrastructure. It won't be the answer for every city, but it is an option worth considering for integration with existing infrastructure,” she said.

“Additional treatment concepts must be explored as well as understanding how to control the formation of some trace organics to minimize the need for downstream treatment,” she added.

“As an industry, we need to focus our discussions on ‘Water.’  We have traditionally focused on segregation of water to highlight its quality vs. seeing the big-picture and inter-connectedness of the whole water system. Our session is one piece of the water system that is integral to addressing the water supply challenges and thus must be viewed as a key piece of the water puzzle.”

The STIS also aims to identify and prioritize research needs and technology focus areas (TFAs) for the entire water value chain. There is a need for ongoing research to further develop and optimize the performance of these technologies, and at the same time, implementation decisions regarding these technologies have become more critical. In order to help guide research direction and implementation decisions, the Summit will prioritize TFAs into Tier-1 and Tier-2, based on their impact and effort.

However, identification of TFAs is only the first step to bringing innovation into the water sector. To facilitate the evaluation and validation of a wider range of innovative technologies on a larger scale, the water sector should look into developing more platforms where a variety of stakeholders along the water and wastewater supply chain can collaborate on R&D.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration can also enable risk management to be shared among several parties, since businesses or industrial water users can be risk-averse due to the need to protect the profitability of their business.

There is thus a need for all water stakeholders to look into attracting investors to fund innovative technologies and start-ups, and to explore different financing models that can facilitate introduction and adoption of innovative water solutions.

Financing Full-Cycle Innovation

 

Christopher Gasson, Publisher of Global Water Intelligence, will chair the fifth and final session on “Financing Full-Cycle Innovation.”

“There are two aspects of the financial challenge for innovation in the water sector,” he said. “The first is on the technology development side, where it is often difficult to raise capital to commercialize new technologies because of the length of the sales cycle …The second aspect is on the client side, where the risk reward equation for adopting new technologies is skewed towards a conservative attitude towards innovation. The single thing which would most change this situation would be the spread of economic regulation in the water sector to incentivize utilities to take risks on new technologies.”

“There are no special arrangements for financing innovation on the customer side,” Gasson continued. “In general however industrial customers are more prepared to innovate than municipal ones because they are more focused on using innovation to get a competitive advantage. Utilities don't have to worry about their performance vis a vis other utilities.”

“We need to talk about incentives, procurement models, and networks. If we could find a way of accelerating the uptake of innovation in the sector, it would be an immense benefit to everyone. I think that the cluster concept is important here: all over the world governments are looking to the water technology sector to drive economic development, but they haven't really worked out a mechanism about how to deliver that.”

STIS, an exclusive invitation-only gathering, is taking place in Singapore from June 16-17. Dialogues started at the Summit will be continued at Singapore International Water Week 2016 from July 10-14.

 
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