More than half of water utility leaders globally have yet to embrace innovation and risk missing out on important “sustainability dividends,” according to a new Arcadis report, “Empowering Water Utility Innovation.”
Arcadis, the leading global design and consultancy firm for natural and built assets, unveiled the report in advance of the annual American Water Works Association’s Annual Conference & Exposition in Philadelphia.
Arcadis surveyed 423 utility professionals across 82 urban water utilities and discovered that only 40 percent engage innovation as a business practice. Yet more than 90 percent of respondents said it is critical to the future of their utility.
In the report, Jason Carter, delivery and innovation lead for Arcadis North America, reveals how innovation generates measurable ROI while resulting in social, environmental and economic benefits. These benefits strengthen a utility’s brand, bottom line and satisfaction ratings to ultimately improve quality of life for its customers.
The report further points to innovations such as stormwater harvesting, advanced metering and real-time system monitoring as pathways to generating sustainability dividends. These dividends equate to greater revenue capture, improved demand management, waste reduction or increased asset longevity, to name a few.
“By building a culture of creativity, investment, experimentation and incubation, utilities can deploy innovation to foster new approaches to serving customers, managing facilities and funding infrastructure improvements,” Carter explains. “Innovation enables utilities to effectively engage internal and external resources to continuously improve operations and increase value for their customers through improved system resiliency, efficiency and quality, the three elements of water sustainability. Ultimately, it is innovation that leads to sustainability dividends.”
The report provides a “Utility Innovation Framework,” which comprises eight disciplines for creating a culture of innovation, such as focusing on defining challenges that guide investment, engaging stakeholders in transformative programs, reaching out to external resources and communicating success.
The Arcadis report builds on a 190-page industry guidance manual, “Fostering Innovation Within Water Utilities,” which was recently published by the Water Research Foundation (WRF) and Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) with Carter as the principal investigator.
The Arcadis report also provides several case studies, including how three utilities embraced innovation to reap sustainability dividends.
Innovation: Ultrasonic algae control – American Water, a utility headquartered in Voorhees, New Jersey, piloted new technologies to drive improvements. The utility tested four ultrasonic algae control units in a reservoir in New Jersey, allowing a nearby reservoir to serve as a control. The six-month evaluation delivered sustainability dividends by showing effective control of the algae growth and no evidence of taste or odor problems or algal toxins. An economic assessment revealed the units saved approximately $87,800 in operational costs, with a projected payback time of 1.8 years for the system.
Innovation: Real time intelligence – According to the WRF/WE&RF guidance manual, Toronto Water used real-time intelligence from smart systems to control energy cost variations, planned/unplanned equipment downtime and demand/storage variations for greater system resilience. Sustainability dividends were achieved with cost savings from power projected at US $1.2 million, and more coming from optimizing variable spot market energy rates.
Innovation: Intelligent water networks – Florida’s Jacksonville Energy Authority water division is using acoustic sensing technology to digitally assess pipe conditions, according to the WRF/WE&RF guidance manual. The utility uses an intelligent water network to deploy robust sensors into the network to generate actionable data while allowing for monitoring and actively managing performance in real time. This ability to accurately identify problems and immediately respond helps utilities target resources while providing sustainability dividends like eliminating outages and sewer flooding.