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STIS Looks at What Drives Innovation in the Water Sector


In the kick-off panel discussion at the SIWW Technology and Innovation Summit (STIS) this week, participants focused on key drivers for innovation in the water industry.

Drivers for Innovative Solutions

PWN Technologies CEO Jonathan Clement noted that with increasing urbanization, the classical case in which water comes from far-off places where infrastructure can be placed is ending. The industry is being forced to look at how to treat water in dense urban locations, how to produce less waste, and how to draw water out of the urban environment.

John Holland Pte Ltd General Manager Mal Shepherd said it was important to look at “organized” and “disorganized” water economies differently, as each has varying demands and the drivers for innovation are quite different. Drivers of innovation in organized economies are more attuned to aging assets, energy recovery and bio-solids, whereas disorganized water economies require low-cost innovation and engagement with local entrepreneurs.

The fact that 2 billion people worldwide drink polluted water should serve as the number one driver of innovation, noted Rand Water General Manager Hamanth Kasan.

The number two driver should be the projected global population increase of 3 billion, which will lead to demand exceeding available resources by 40 percent, and unprecedented urbanization that “will challenge us like never before to look at different approaches.”

Taking a long-term perspective, University of California Berkeley Professor Emeritus David Jenkins said the overall challenges of providing a safe water supply have not changed in 55 years. The most challenging area now is to provide fit-for-use water from distant and polluted sources, which requires going beyond traditional wastewater treatment methods.   

Focusing on differences between developed and developing economies, Saudi Arabian Saline Water Conversion Corp (SWCC) Governor Abdulrahman Mohammed Al Ibrahim said demand in industrial countries that have enough cash to build huge plants will decrease a little, whereas in the rest of the world demand will soar higher. The key driver for innovation that he saw is to secure water at an affordable cost.  

Finally, Cambodian Secretary of State Ek Sonn said the primary driver for innovation is the mitigation of climate change, and the second most important driver is the need to construct large water treatment plants to deal with rapid urbanization.

Technology to Drive Change

“We have to go to unconventional sources,” Clement said, and look beyond desalination and towards technology that works effectively and that can produce 100 million liters per day.

“One of the things we should prioritize is performance of the technology,” he said. “The second is to work in the urban environment. We cannot build treatment plants hundreds of kilometers away.”

Shepherd said one solution to do more with less and optimize what we have is to rediscover innovations that have not quite worked before and move them into a technology that does work, potentially with an innovative approach to renewal of assets.

“Changing global water markets will require a shift in mindset,” he said. And to match needs with innovative solutions, we need to change the teaching and research focus radically and disruptively.

“We need to create a generation of people who specialize in the impossible,” he said. “This does not mean we dispense with fundamental knowledge. They (also) need to understand how to create disruptive innovation.”

Toward the end of the discussion, participants were asked to select from nearly 20 options and vote on what they see as the top five drivers for innovation. They identified these as:

  1. Needs for alternative / nonconventional water sources
  2. Protection of water quality
  3. The waste-food-energy nexus
  4. Waste minimization
  5. Extreme weather events

Asked to provide some final thoughts on the panel, Kasan said participants need to “lead a revolution” on three fronts -- first, technology and responsible innovation; second, a change in human behavior, with respect for the resource; and third, injecting the notion of ethical conduct and changing the deficit in governance.

STIS, which ran from June from June 16-17, included over 250 eminent delegates from around the world, including a delegation from Scotland, the Hydro Nation.

Dialogues started at the Summit will be continued at Singapore International Water Week 2016 from July 10-14, 2016.