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Look towards digital technology to tackle water issues: Grundfos official

2017-12-11 10:28:29
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Sri Lanka has water problems and as the country’s urban infrastructure expands, those problems are set to exacerbate. Sri Lanka’s water problems range from too much water to too little water and the absence of a proper waste water management system brings in a whole lot of new problems. In this backdrop, what is the way forward for Sri Lanka? Mirror Business met with Andy Tan, Country Manager of Singapore and Export Markets (Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Myanmar) of Grundfos— the Danish pump manufacturing giant, whose business is water sustainability— to have a brief chat about Sri Lanka’s water future in a context where it has been predicted that water will be a scarce resource for over a billion Asians in about four decades. 


Can you explain the vital role of water supply and waste water management going forward for cities in Asia, which are said to undergo an unprecedented transformation with a massive number of people calling such cities their homes?


With rapid urbanisation driving population growth in Asian cities, the region can expect about one billion more people becoming ‘water-stressed’ over the next 35 years. With that, our water supply and waste water management systems play an important role in ensuring water security for all, which faces complications brought about by the consequences of climate change and the vulnerability of ageing water distribution facilities.


Hence, these pressing issues call for a re-evaluation of our existing systems to adopt new technologies that would help us manage water as a finite resource, to which Grundfos is contributing through its latest innovations and solutions.


What are the key challenges the Asian city planners face getting their cities ready to accommodate this influx of people who migrate from village areas to cities to upgrade their living standards?


The increase in demand from the influx of people in cities will cause a greater strain on resources such as water – the main challenge for Asian city planners is to ensure greater water sustainability by minimising any loss during the process. Sri Lanka’s unaccounted water rate – water lost through issues such as pipe leakage – is at 30 percent and 49 percent in Colombo. With increasing water demand on the back of growing consumer and business appetites, the last thing Sri Lanka needs is water wasted through poorly constructed infrastructure or networks.


How Grundfos helps these cities address the issue of water leakage is with forward-looking water utility solutions such as our Demand Driven Distribution system, which uses an intelligent software that automatically adjusts the water flow through the use of remote sensors at the end user points of use.


As you may know, Sri Lanka has embarked on an ambitious programme to make Colombo and its suburbs in the Western Province a megapolis. What would be the key advice you’d give to Lankan city planners? 


One key thing to note would be to ensure that the city is smart when it comes to responding to the current climate conditions. Communities and industries must be self-sufficient by consuming the least resources. For example, pumps are responsible for a staggering 10 percent of global electricity consumption, while playing a vital role in the transportation and treatment of water in cities today.


In order for a megapolis to function optimally for its citizens for the long term, it needs to look at performing effectively and efficiently in areas like pumps used in water transport and treatment. Smart technology is the key for cities in Sri Lanka, with the potential of Industry 4.0 to integrate into manufacturing and agricultural industries to reduce financial and environmental costs unprecedented. For example, Grundfos’ intelligent pumps in the iSolution range can save energy costs by 40 to 50 percent.


Additionally, city planners need to consider how the megapolis can be resilient in mitigating the potential damages extreme weather events such as flooding can bring. Urban flood management requires a more holistic approach beyond measures like drains and canals and in order for a city to be prepared, intelligent practices such as implementing water level sensors to ensure that the existing drainage infrastructure from being overwhelmed.


Also, Sri Lanka is building a port city reclaiming the sea. As a result, water is going to be a very precious resource. In this backdrop, what would be the best approach by Sri Lanka in terms of water supply and waste water management?


As we understand it, Sri Lanka has issues largely pertaining to water treatment and transportation. To manage water and waste water well, it is critical to understand the complete water cycle, with each process and their inter-relationship clearly defined with a clear water policy and supported with strong enforcement. Each process should also be followed with market best practice and equipment. Desalination is always applicable in remote places or at least as a contingency water supply option. The key challenge with regard to desalination is always the high usage of energy. With that, Grundfos is able to advice on energy recovery for our desalination systems. Together with our motor technology and iSolution initiative, we are able to provide a more efficient solution.


The recommended approach for Sri Lanka is to look towards digital technology, big data and intelligent products and networks to distribute water resources efficiently and solve large-scale environmental challenges. As mentioned, technology such as our Demand Driven Distribution can help municipalities better able to control water pressures in pipes and limit extensive leakage issues, helping them better manage their water resources. Grundfos understands the chain of importance in the water cycle and this is where we contribute with efficient energy solutions with our pumps.  


In recent times Sri Lanka has been battered by multiple incidents of flooding and part of the country has been experiencing the worst drought in three decades as a result of climate change. How can the smart technology adopted by companies like Grundfos can be of assistance to mitigate these extremities?


Each situation for flood control and water management comes with its own unique issues and usually requires a very specific approach. At the same time, at an industry level, there needs to be an urgent reconsideration on how we could change the way storm water and water supply is managed, by better leveraging technology.


In Sri Lanka, flooding is a common issue. Integrating the existing technologies into flood-preventative measures – sensors, rainfall measurements, automation technologies, intelligent pumping systems, data analytics and industrial Internet of things – can help to create a smart water grid. Grundfos provides a wide range of pumping solutions, including flood-control pumps, which can be engineered to provide a more customised solution and is engineered to cope with the heavy demands of flood management.


Sri Lanka has also recently been hit by the worst drought in 40 years. Technology can play a significant role in mitigating droughts, in the form of data gathering to determine drought intensities, data-based analytics to detect and prevent water loss through pipe leaks, rainwater harvesting and energy-efficient water supply.
To help drought-stricken cities tackle periods of water scarcity, Grundfos has supplied solutions that are able to utilise abundant solar energy to power water supply, such as the SQFlex submersible pumping system. The pump system offers the perfect water supply solution in remote areas where water is scarce and the power supply is non-existent or unreliable.


In Sri Lanka’s water supply system, non-revenue water due to leakages remains a massive challenge to be addressed. Any thoughts, probably drawing analogies from other countries that faced the same problem and overcame it successfully?


Sri Lanka’s unaccounted water rate is at 30 percent and 49 percent in Colombo. This water is lost through pipe leakages from wear and tear brought about unregulated water pressure. Using Grundfos’ Demand Driven Distribution is one solution where municipalities are able to control water pressures in pipes and limit extensive leakage issues.


For example, in Cambodia, we worked with the national water authority to address the issue of non-revenue water, an issue which has been at the top of its agenda. We put in place our Demand Driven Distribution solution, which tackled water leakage issues by using an intelligent software that automatically adjusts water flow through the use of remote sensors at the end user points of use.   


In your opinion, how should water be treated – a basic human right or a commodity? How important it is for a government to get the water tariffs right? In Sri Lanka’s case, water is highly subsidised and as a result, the country’s water agency is in perennial debt and cannot carryout upgrades unless the Treasury gets involved.  
Everyone has the basic right to water and sanitisation, which is also explicitly recognised by the United Nations. Grundfos recognises that adequate water tariffs are important in order to improve water use efficiency and securing financial sustainability of water utilities and operators. However, from our perspective, as a manufacturer of pumping solutions and technology, we want to highlight that there are also other key areas of considerations to ensure access to water for everyone, such as tackling issues such as non-revenue water.


Despite their sustainability claims, the majority of Sri Lankan corporates give scant regard for water treatment in their production processes. Most of them say sophisticated waste water treatment plants are costly and beyond their budgets. 


Any comments?


While industries have made great strides in switching to newer technology, adoption is still a challenge. However, what companies need to realise is that while advanced intelligent technology can cost more upfront, the benefits in the long run will exceed the upfront investment. As these innovations are further developed on a larger scale and with affordable distribution, an education process needs to take place and cost will be less of a barrier in the near future.


What are your thoughts on the recent report by IFC, which stated that Sri Lanka offers US $ 2.7 billion worth of investment opportunities in waste water management?
The Sri Lankan government has been implementing reforms to encourage private sector-driven growth to ensure sustainable economic development and it is heartening to see its Board of Investments identifying climate-smart urban water as one of its priorities.


In order to realise this goal, greater attention needs to be paid towards ensuring energy efficiency throughout the infrastructure of the entire water cycle process – whether it is at the collection stage, treatment or even supply. For example, in addition to providing efficient pumps, Grundfos also contributes at the design and specification phase, such as using Computational Fluid Dynamics modelling to determine optimal flow patterns for pumping stations and retention tanks. Our pumping, mixing, dosing and aeration systems are thus optimised for each other, ensuring a cohesive system working efficiently.


The expected scale of investment will mean more opportunities for solution providers like Grundfos to introduce these advanced intelligent technologies that are both sustainable and energy efficient, playing a role in the expected 64 percent of waste water to be treated by 2030. However, in order for this to be sustainable, the government needs to also put in place a clear water policy, introducing interdisciplinary cooperation across utilities, authorities and companies. For example, in Copenhagen, urban planners had worked together companies like Grundfos and consultants including DHI and Ramboll, along with many others, to ensure a secure public water supply.

 


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