Schneider Electric’s Smart Water vision – an interview with Pascal Bonnefoi
We had a chance to conduct an interview with Pascal Bonnefoi, the water segment director at Schneider Electric. We discussed smart water, Schneider’s approach to the water infrastrcuture space and how it relates to other initiatives Schneider is leading, on both the consumer side and the supply-demand side of a smart electric grid. Schneider Electric’s water segment activity is most interesting in light of Schneider’s core business, as a global specialist in energy management.
The Water Monitor: Schneider Electric often states that “water is the gold of the 21st century” – can you share with us some of the key insights you have about the challenges utilities and governments face with regards to water in our times?
Bonnefoi: The need for drinking water and the growing concern for environmental care leave utilities and governments with an obligation to invest in new facilities and better operate existing installations. The split between the two depends on country maturity but in all cases the challenge is financing : water is gold because of water scarcity and because of environmental challenges we have.
On the investment side, the difficulty comes from the evidence that the privatisation process did not spread as was anticipated. The European private utilities stopped recycling their profits in emerging markets, and due to the global financial crisis, most of the funds will come from government recovery plans and not from private sector.
On the operation side, the water price is fixed by public authorities but some key parts of operation costs, such as energy and chemicals, are increasing. This means that productivity and process improvement is essential.
TWM: Schneider Electric is a leader in Energy Management – how does this vision extend into managing water distribution?
Bonnefoi: On the investment side Schneider Electric offerings represent about 3% of the cost to build a plant or a network, but when it comes to operation, the Energy Bill represents on average one-third of the operating cost of the water utility. We need to do more with less – and water is not an exception.
Energy demand will be multiplied by two in 2050 and Electrical Energy need itself will double even faster, by 2030. At the same time we need to drastically reduce our consumption to help cut CO2 emissions by half.
Schneider, as the leader in Energy Management, wants to focus on the key consumption points and for drinking water it is clearly the water distribution network. So we have to group under Schneider’s Energy Management services some process efficiency services, such as TaKaDu’s water network monitoring.
TWM: How does the W.A.G.E.S (water, air, gas, electricity, steam) utility monitoring system play here? Can you give a few examples of how it is implemented?
Bonnefoi: Measuring and analysing utility usage enables customers to identify areas of waste, benchmark normal consumption and set alarms on deviation. Schneider Electric is offering predesigned and preprogrammed equipment for WAGES.
In addition, we have put together the EcoStruXure program which allows to gather information contributing to energy efficiency at the enterprise level.
TWM: Borrowing from the Smart Grid in the electricity space, how do you think a Smart Water approach will evolve? Will water endpoints become smarter as well?
Bonnefoi: As we can often see in the water business, many technologies are coming from other market segments like Oil & Gas or Metal, Mining, Minerals. The smart water grid will come true in parallel with the smart electrical grid. TaKaDu’s approach contributes to this emergence ‘top-down’, and Schneider is also in a key position drawing on the Smart Grid business, as shown with our recent acquisition of Areva Distribution.
TWM: Where do you see Smart Water solutions 10 years from now?
Bonnefoi: I believe Smart Water is about closing the loop: We cannot draw water and energy from nature and then reject it into the environment without managing it closely. Schneider Electric and TaKaDu are key contributors to closing this loop from measurement and detection to action.
In 10 years Smart Water will have spread from advanced plants and bulk water transportation to the “last mile” allowing people to manage their water and their energy. Not all countries will advance at the same pace – each country will reach a different step as water is a local market even if it is a global concern.
TWM: Do you feel water utilities already share this vision in full? What are the key challenges we face as an industry, and what needs to happen for the utilities to take action?
Bonnefoi: Schneider Electric is intimate with the water market world leaders and they have already taken into account efficiency in their organisations. The challenge is that these changes take time. The first outcome is probably more visible in advanced technologies such as desalination, but pilot sites are now appearing with advanced energy management systems or renewable energy installations, where the loop between nature and human use is closed.