Nothing against mousetraps, but it is new technologies for inspecting and repairing water infrastructure that will have the world beating a $20 billion path to your door in this century.
Innovative technologies that can monitor entire water infrastructure networks and allow facility owners to target sections in most urgent need of repair will be the most lucrative piece of that industry’s future, according to Boston-based Lux Research, which focuses on market research in emerging technologies.
“The market for technologies that help inspect and repair the world’s aging water infrastructure is approaching $20 billion worldwide and is growing at a healthy 10%,” reports “Plugging the Leaks: The Business of Water Infrastructure Repair.”
Inspection Solutions Needed
Currently, that growth is mostly funded by spiraling consumer water bills rather than government grants, leading municipalities to desperately seek more cost-effective new ways of maintaining their pipe networks.
“Outdated water infrastructure and record-high government deficits are both fueling demand for low-cost inspection and repair solutions—namely, software and sensor technologies that can provide a snapshot of a utility’s entire infrastructure,” said Brent Giles, a Lux Research Senior Analyst and the report’s lead author.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
|Harnessing the old and the new: Newer infrastructure systems like Iowa’s state-of-the-art Keokuk Water Works can take advantage of emerging monitoring technologies. The Keokuk system also incorporates part of a 345 million-year-old Mississippian limestone bluff along one entire interior wall.|
“Without this holistic view, utilities cannot prioritize the most critical repairs – and may end up throwing money down the drain to address the leaks that are visible today rather than the ones that could prove catastrophic tomorrow.”
Authors say the report provides a reality check on the challenges and opportunities surrounding the inspection and repair of aging water infrastructures. It also includes guidance on identifying technologies best equipped to isolate, prioritize, and target critical repairs.
Report authors say they surveyed the field of technology providers and broke it into two segments: pipe repair and monitoring. The team developed scores for the maturity and technical value of individual companies and used these scores to assign the companies to a quadrant: “current winners” (high on both value and maturity), “future winners” (high value, low maturity), “incumbents” (high maturity, low value), and “long-shot” technologies (low value, low maturity).
Seeking ‘Smarter’ Infrastructure
Those quadrants show some key gaps, authors say. Overall, the report finds, today’s pipe repair technologies have far to go, while monitoring innovation is a bit more advanced. Among the key findings:
Pipe repair technologies lack innovation. The landscape of pipe repair technologies indicates an industry facing stagnation, dominated by current winners and incumbents and short on future winners or long shots.
Environmental Protection Agency:
Parts of the nation’s water infrastructure system are more than 100 years old. EPA is underwriting R&D of new technology to help close the $500 billion funding gap needed for infrastructure upkeep.
“Pipe monitoring and characterization benefit from advances in information technologies, but pipe rehabilitation methods remain a trailing technology,” the report says.
Smart meters win the monitoring category, but for how long? Smart water meters have yet to see major market penetration, but the presence of massive companies in the market with little technological differentiation limits opportunities, Lux reports.
“’Future winners’ in the drinking water industry will facilitate smart-meter sales and ride the coattails of their success, including algorithmic event predictors, leak locators, and other methods for automating collection and application of smart meter data,” the report says.
The big move is toward smart infrastructure monitoring. Having a clear picture of the entire infrastructure could save a water company tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs each year, Lux notes.
Survey-quality GPS, sometimes combined with electromagnetic or ground-penetrating radar, is already widespread. The technology can map pipe infrastructure in 3D, correct the “widespread errors in existing maps” and at least ensure “that repair crews will find a pipe when they dig.”
Infrastructure Advocates Take Capitol Hill
The Lux report came just days before the 10th annual Water Matters! Fly In on Capitol Hill, backed by North America’s two largest water associations.
More than 170 representatives of the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation fanned out across the Hill on Monday and Tuesday (April 4 and 5) for more than 400 meetings designed to push for smart approaches to water infrastructure finance and regulation.
The group represented water, wastewater and stormwater utilities in 49 states and Puerto Rico. Their agenda included several key issues.
Water Infrastructure Financing
Advocates are seeking creation of a new water infrastructure finance mechanism to provide low-cost capital to water utilities needing to invest in infrastructure, as well as to State Revolving Funds. The group also wants water projects removed from the state volume cap on Private Activity Bonds.
The group seeks “funding and strengthening” of the Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF programs.
Clean Water Act Flexibility
Any congressional changes to the Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act “should provide communities with both flexibility and affordability,” the groups say.
“Congress should consider rational, even-handed approaches to revising CWA or SDWA requirements that both improve program delivery and or state/local flexibility while advancing environmental and public health protections.”
Chemical Facility Security
The group seeks “appropriate” chemical security legislation that applies to water and wastewater utilities. That includes local control on decisions regarding chemicals for water treatment, rules that apply only if facilities “have chemicals of concern above identified threshold quantities,” and “adequate protection of sensitive information,” the group said in a statement.