Five traits of the utility of the future
I think the utility of the future will…
…be a digital utility, particularly for asset management
Sophisticated platforms are being developed for specific issues. Solutions are being trialled. Although we talk a lot about digital water, we are still at an early stage in the water industry. I think digital water will be particularly important for asset management: asset management is the KEY challenge for the water industry.
…become a water and energy utility
Why not imagine that water utilities sell energy surplus or even renewable energy to the communities? In particular if we look at the trends in energy, which rather go towards decentralised systems, we could imagine that the water utility sells energy too, through these decentralised systems. This could become more significant in the future and the emergence of blockchain would allow peer-to-peer trading for energy.
…become a water resource recovery facility
Wastewater could become a greater source of new resources to be recovered. Technologies and services exist to do this and ensure a sustainable financial stream for the water utility. Excellent European innovation projects are also currently being carried out in this respect.
…put the consumers at the heart of its operations
This is something that the utilities claim to have done but what has been missing is the creation of a different, and more personalised relationship with customers. Digital tools will increasingly enable this, as these tools will allow for a better understanding of customers’ needs. In relation to personalised hydration, could we also imagine that the utility gets into more personalised services for tap water too?
…use FinTech to redefine payment for water and wastewater services
Strangely today, FinTech in the water industry is discussed in the context of improving access to water and wastewater in developing countries, notably in the context of the emergence of pay as you go systems. In the future, could we think about innovative financial solutions to pay for water that would reduce, for instance, non-revenue water? The challenge would be how to apply these to the different contexts you experience. Nonetheless, this aspect should be further explored.
Making water innovations attractive
Looking ahead, innovative technologies and services will inevitably transform the business model. The new generations of start-ups have understood that the innovations that are placed on the market need to embrace a shorter return on investment time and should be affordable. They should also be ensuring that the water industry would save on capital and operational expenditure.
There are early stage start-ups in Europe which will bring in disruptive technologies. There are also some innovations at the R&D level, including through the European R&D and innovations projects, which will be true disruptive technologies and concepts. However, one area we need to improve in Europe is how to spin off companies from research and innovation projects.
I should also mention a last topic, which is investment. The whole value chain to sustain the utility of the future must include investment in innovations that will then be used by utilities. Investment has been low because the water industry, among other end users, has not seen water innovations as attractive. This is changing because the start-ups have understood that the business model is as equally important as the technology or service, to attract investment and attract the market’s interest. There are also new ways of financing water innovations, which go beyond the traditional venture capital model. But this is for another article.