How digitalization drives new water technologies

The water sector can certainly become more efficient, innovative, sustainable, and less fragmented if everyone works together at implementing the next technology leap into digitalization and Industry 4.0.

This is one of the conclusions of the DTU sector development report ‘Lad vand og data strømme’ (Let water and data flow), which has been published in collaboration with the Confederation of Danish Industry and the Danish Association of Consulting Engineers and several other players in the Danish water sector.

The aim is to accelerate the development of new technologies and methods in the water sector, and to strengthen Danish consultants, technology manufacturers, and utilities in the area.

“In working with the sector development report, we have listened to the water industry in general, and we have also tried to get a sense of international trends,” says Peter Steen Mikkelsen, centre leader at Water DTU and a professor at DTU Environment.

“The Danish water sector has made great strides, but more is needed to meet the goals in the water industry’s ‘Vandvision 2025’ (Water vision 2025) for more growth and exports. In addition, there is broad demand for a joint vision and overlapping incentive structures that can support the ambitions of taking Denmark to the forefront of developments and supporting this position in the future.”

Water supports growth 

Today, water supports almost all economic growth across sectors, and water-related issues – such as extreme weather, natural disasters, drought, and failure of climate adaptation – are deemed to pose the greatest risks for human well-being and prosperity. Even Denmark has experienced sudden and heavy downpours and rising water levels which incur significant financial and infrastructure costs.

Thus, new water technology systems need to be developed based on new data sources, more intelligent products, and robust planning tools. More service-based business models, collaborative autonomous systems based on intelligent water technology components, and multi-utility systems that combine water treatment and energy and resource recovery in a cyber-safe framework are also needed.

According to Peter Steen Mikkelsen, major investments are in the pipeline. Climate adaptation is required, new waterworks and wastewater treatment plants need to be built, and the monitoring of water resources must be improved significantly. And all this must be done in a way that supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UN SDGs point to major technological and management challenges related to water. Research, innovation, education, and entrepreneurship can all contribute to addressing these challenges. However, there is a need for an interdisciplinary effort to strengthen collaboration in the sector’s ecosystem, and to integrate the deep domain professionalism on water with in-depth expertise about digitalization and more general system integration skills.

A common vision

“A potential common vision for the water sector could be to see digitalization and integration of disciplines as drivers of a cross cutting transformation that can make the sector more efficient and innovative while at the same time less fragmented and more sustainable,” says Peter Steen Mikkelsen.

“For decades, Denmark has been focusing on the green transformation of large parts of society. The time is now ripe to also focus our efforts on the water sector and to kick-start the blue transition. Knowledge about water can become a new business adventure for Denmark, but there is a need for action both politically and among the sector’s players to initiate a focused effort within the water field.”

(Christina Tækker)