SWAN 2012 – opportunities and challenges in the Smart Water pond
The 2nd annual SWAN conference took place earlier this week in Utrecht, Netherlands, with the warm hospitality of Vitens. For the second time, smart water experts and pioneers representing the entire value-chain – water utilities, technology vendors, integrators, consultants, analysts and investors – gathered for 2 days of intensive discussions on the present and future of water networks.
If last year, when we gathered for the first time, the dominant question was ‘what are smart networks?’, this year it appears that there is less uncertainty around the definitions – and the significance – of the space. Two of the leading industry analysts, Greg Neichin from the Cleantech Group, and Seth Cutler from Frost & Sullivan, laid down inclusive frameworks and shared market figures leaving very little room for doubt as to the basic fact – Smart Water Networks are the direction in which all water utilities in the world are headed.Some utilities are doing it today, and we have heard from utilities in the US, the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain on their strategies and activities (and one must say – each of them is approaching it from a different direction, depending on their challenges and needs). Others are still in ‘wait and see’ mode, and we spent considerable time in the conference talking about what would get them to adopt smart water network technologies.
We heard presentations from twenty technology companies, including ‘industry giants’ such as Veolia Environment, IBM, Siemens and Schneider Electric as well as smaller specialised players such as i2O Water, Martinek, Derceto, Hydrospin and Syrinix – among many others, includinbg our own TaKaDu. All of the presentations had an underlying theme – the role of data in the management of water networks is not to be disputed.
But there are quite a few challenges, and the discussions we held highlighted them quite effectively – the lack of interoperability, the need for proven and validated business cases, the relative scarcity of capital dedicated to smart water network technologies (though according to analysts from Frost & Sullian and the Cleantech Group, things are getting better on this front – mainly owing to corporate activity) and the underlying gap underpinning many of the water industry’s challenges – the gap between water prices and the actual cost of delivering water to consumers.
We divided up into ad-hoc discussion groups to address these and other challenges, and came up with recommendations for action. Now we need to act. It’s good to talk, and the SWAN Forum is a great platform for discussion, but it is meant primarily for promoting the industry, and it’s now time to do it.
During the coming weeks we will be attempting to turn our takeaways and conclusions into concrete actions. If you are not already engaged in an activity within SWAN, it’s time to join!
Much more to say, but this will be done in the next post.