TaKaDu @ Davos: A Smart Water Technologist’s View on Water Security
My company, TaKaDu, is a 2011 technology pioneer. On my way to the annual meeting at Davos, I was asked to view and comment on this video, posted by the Global Agenda Council for Water Security.
Watching the video was a mixed experience: emotional and uplifting. Emotional because water is everything, especially for me, growing up in a country with constant water scarcity. Uplifting, because of my hope that discussions such as those undertaken by the Global Agenda Council will foster the change all humans on the planet need to ensure that we, our children, grandchildren and their children, will all have the water we need to live and thrive.
TaKaDu, the company I founded two years ago, addresses water security by looking at ways to minimize water loss and make water networks more efficient, typically in an urban water distribution system. The number that underlies all this is that 25% of water is unaccounted for after it enters the distribution system and before it reaches consumers. In some countries, this number can reach 50% or more. TaKaDu’s solution makes more water available to more people, and will hopefully make the problem of water scarcity less acute. I think about these issues all day long, thinking about the underlying unique technology we’ve developed and keep developing, our partners and customers.
Yet, the world council video on water security took me by surprise by reminding me of the basics:
Water scarcity is everyone’s problem and is tied to everything we know and love
Today, as CEO of a Smart Water Grid company, I speak to utilities in the developed world, utilities that collect the data that can help TaKaDu reduce their water loss rates. But water, the most essential of all our needs, underpins food, safety and human existence. All over the world, and more acutely in less developed countries, lack of water means no life, and the possible eruption of war, violence and hunger. With water loss rates of 50% or more, and intermittent water supply, some countries cannot offer their inhabitants basic well being and a secure future.
Water is not oil
Although some people like to say that “water is the new oil”, it is not. Water cannot be transported like oil; it is inherently local, meaning that water crises can erupt in certain areas that experience water stress and that alleviating that stress is not simple. Desalinated water cannot be taken to the other end of the world for someone to drink or grow food with. Oil will be replaced by other sources of energy, green and renewable. Water is non-replaceable. This is why solving the water crisis requires other strategies and approaches than those used to look at the energy or global warming issues. It requires innovation and courage.
Water distribution is undergoing a severe infrastructure crisis
Investing in water distribution is no simple task. This enormous infrastructure, laid over the past 100 years, exactly the same 100 years where human settlement has ceased tying itself to nearby water sources, is aging rapidly. It is estimated that in the Western World, 50% of pipes are more than 80 years old. With old pipes, and little funds, regulatory push or replacement incentive, the rates of water loss are increasing.
Data can resolve many of the issues we’re facing
One of the treasures I’ve found while at TaKaDu is that water utilities often have the data that can help them reduce water loss. Water utilities collect data and, using the analytics and statistics and processing power of the past decade we can take the data and make new sense out of it. Taking those insights can reduce water loss and make water security issues less acute. Data can help us detect previously unseen leaks and bursts, and indentify inefficiencies in the way the network operates.
But it is not all about technology.
I wish water scarcity could be solved with technology alone. It cannot. Water security requires all of us to work together – since it isn’t just about food, industry or irrigation but also about social harmony and political stability. It requires us to be rigorous and to combine our political, institutional, economic and technology powers to make the water we have sustain us longer.