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2020 Strategic Directions: Water Report

Asia Pacific’s Water Industry Focuses on Sustainability, Resource Recovery

Based on a survey of water and wastewater stakeholders, our report examines the issues and trends impacting today’s industry.

Asia Pacific’s Water Industry Focuses on Sustainability, Resource Recovery

Amid climate change and growing urbanization, Asia Pacific’s water networks are getting more complex and extensive. Increasing incidences of extreme weather that changes rainfall patterns, affecting rainfall availability and distribution, are one aspect of climate change that regional water leaders are addressing.

In April 2020, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported that the top end was experiencing two wet seasons of low rainfall. In the same month, Indonesia reported that floods damaged homes in Banten, Bengkulu and East Kalimantan, and at least 2,000 people were affected.

Other challenges the region is facing arise from rapid urbanization and aging water infrastructure.

As of April 2020, the United Nations estimates that the population of Southeast Asia is more than 667 million, with half of the population urban. On the one hand, the growing urban population increases the demand for water, which puts a strain on water resources and infrastructure. Conversely, cities are well-positioned to provide more integrated and sustainable water use and waste management.

Recognizing the value of that integration and sustainability, Asia Pacific water leaders are identifying possibilities for resource recovery in urban water infrastructure to continue building resilient, livable cities. Digital transformation is one tool that the region is investing in to support better infrastructure lifecycle management decisions and strategies.

2020 Strategic Directions: Water Report

With its survey of nearly 300 water industry stakeholders as its backbone, Black & Veatch’s 2020 Strategic Directions: Water Report comprehensively analyzes the sector’s complex landscape of challenges and opportunities. The leveraging of data in driving decision-making and optimizing efficiencies in water and wastewater systems is widening even as infrastructure continues to age, climate change strains assets, and the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial havoc pressures the bottom lines of many utilities through lost revenues. We look at all of that and more.

Digital Transformation Reframes Water Sector

Digital transformation allows water utilities to explore new ways to enhance productivity and achieve planning and operations efficiency in stormwater, water and wastewater management.

Asia Pacific water leaders are progressively incorporating water infrastructure with sensors and communications infrastructures to relay data from the sensors to control centers. Data is analyzed at treatment works and central control facilities. In some cases, artificial intelligence is incorporated into the analytics and control system.

For water and wastewater assets, technologies such as data analytics, robotics and asset management tools are alerting water utilities of potential operations issues in advance and identifying productivity opportunities.

Robotics are used, for example, in automated lab analysis to test more samples in the same amount of time. Data-driven asset management offers the opportunity to take preventive actions before equipment failure, minimizing infrastructure lifecycle costs while ensuring network reliability. Smart meters are encouraging conservation efforts as they provide users with data that may influence
their water consumption.

By creating digital twins of water facilities, regional water utilities have an opportunity to take insights to a more advanced level. A digital twin is an integrated digital representation of physical assets that provides historical, current and predictive analysis in near real-time. What separates the digital twin from a traditional model is that the twin is in constant dialogue with its physical counterpart through combining information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) enabling its users to simulate scenario options before actioning them in the real world.

For a water utility, a digital twin offers the prospect of helping enhance customer experience, without increasing bills to fund improvements, by optimizing performance of existing assets and increasing the efficiency with which they are operated and maintained. A digital twin supports this by facilitating systems thinking — combining multiple internal and external data sources across the asset base with predictive analytical techniques served through multiple functional views. This enables improved insights that support better decisions, leading to better outcomes in the physical world.

With foresight, many Asia Pacific utilities are identifying the components of a digital transformation program to address their social and economic development requirements.

In Australia, the Intelligent Water Networks (IWN) Program is a partnership between Victoria’s peak industry association, VicWater, various water utilities and Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

The objective of IWN programs is to assess new technologies and innovations that meet common challenges such as population growth, aging infrastructure and climate variability in a more efficient manner. Its Big Data and Analytics Program helps Victorian water utilities, like Lower Murray Water and East Gippsland Water, transition into “digital utilities” by exploring new and emerging technologies designed to manage better and integrate data.

Lower Murray Water and East Gippsland Water piloted a solution to demonstrate aggregation and analysis of data from distributed assets, including smart meters and sensors, with web-based visualization of this data. Key business outcomes include saving time and reducing human errors as the digital platform was able to incorporate data from different sources, perform calculations on the data and use the data in reports and dashboards. The utilities benefitted from faster and better decision making on issues and assets as the platform provided a single point for data access to real-time data, organized it and provided self-service visualization tools.

Asia Pacific water leaders recognize that success requires proven expertise in the design, construction and management of critical infrastructure; underpinned by leading-edge capabilities in data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. They see the value in augmenting utility infrastructure with sensors, wireless connectivity and data analytics to create cyber-physical systems that enhance the planning, operation and management of utility assets.

To tap on the opportunities, regional water leaders are collaborating with partners who can add value at every point along the infrastructure lifecycle. In turn, these partners are systematically fostering new ways of work by sharing deep institutional knowledge to keep Asia Pacific water leaders ahead of rapid changes.

About the Authors

James Currie is a director of Black & Veatch’s water business across Australia and New Zealand. He has 35 years of experience in water and wastewater projects in United Kingdom, Singapore and Southeast Asia, and Australia, where he has been resident since 2008. He has particular experience in large-scale, multi-disciplinary projects and programs.

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