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Making Decentralized Water Infrastructure Work

Smart Monitoring from Pumps to Pipes

Large-scale, centralized water and wastewater infrastructure struggle to meet the needs of fast-growing populations across the Asia-Pacific. As more informal settlements spring up in Asia’s megacities, utilities aren’t well resourced to expand network coverage. This is because building centralized systems incur high capital costs and are not always economically viable, especially for rural communities that will not be able to generate sufficient revenue. These challenges have led to an alternative approach that is starting to gain ground — decentralized water systems.

Decentralized water systems bring services closer to the customers, are more adaptable to evolving needs due to their smaller size, and are affordable in a way that ensures financial feasibility. On top of that, they are also more climate resilient — systems that are geographically dispersed and independently operated are not reliant on just one centralized system that might be vulnerable to external shocks.

However, with the rise of small-scale and decentralized drinking water systems comes the urgency to track the efficiency and health of these new assets. With utilities now overlooking a greater number of smaller assets, they need ways to monitor them in ways that are not labour intensive and that end up soaking up more resources.

Imagine you are a water utility manager who oversees water infrastructure across a fast growing city.. You are analyzing data points for assets ranging from sewer lines and pipelines to pump stations and reservoirs. That’s a LOT of data to handle and most utilities are faced with siloed data across assets. They don’t have the tools to consolidate those insights into ways that can make them more responsive to failures or long-term risks like climate change.

Meet the founders (L-R): Leela Krishna, Sashikumar Y R, Ananth Subba, Deepak Pitta

SpaceAge Labs (SAL) was born out of Singapore with the need to develop a simple and affordable solution to this challenge. This 2019 Imagine H2O Asia startup monitors remote and distributed assets through low-powered IoT devices and advanced machine learning algorithms.

Let’s break down what this means…

SpaceAge Labs’ solution is two-fold. First, their remoteEye IoT device (hardware) is installed and connected to infrastructure assets. This device is low powered, meaning that it doesn’t need to be constantly charged — pretty crucial for remotely distributed assets. As the device collects data, it is sent to a wireless network and goes through their rEye IoT cloud (software). Here, their machine learning algorithms translate data collected into actionable insights accessible through an easy-to-use dashboard.

Presently, SpaceAge Labs monitors over 1000 assets through their rEye IOT platform in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and USA. Designed as a plug-and-play device, their product requires minimal technical knowledge to deploy and use. This has helped them not only effectively collaborate with partners and customers overseas, but also helped them scale in spite of COVID.

While their solution is applied across various sectors, SAL has found a growing market in water. Some examples include:

  • Pipe Health: Monitoring corrosion in water supply pipeline networks
  • Operations Tracking: Real-time location and level monitoring of tanker trucks collecting wastewater from marine and heavy industries
  • Sewage Management: Flow monitoring of sewage to predict overflows and blockage in pipes

But digitizing the water industry is no easy feat, and comes with its own set of challenges — especially when you’re a startup.

Compared to other industries, the water sector is still in the early stages of digitization. This is because concerns around cybersecurity still remain, which makes large scale adoption of IoT devices uncommon. As it takes time to convince customers on not just the benefits but the reliability of a new product, SpaceAge Labs’ has had to rely on its unparalleled track record with high profile customers and previous pilots to alleviate these concerns. For example, they ensure that their solution complies with government agencies and companies cybersecurity requirements. Additionally, their rEye software is periodically reviewed by cloud infrastructure partner AWS.

This has made them one of the key players in digitizing the Asian water sector, especially in Singapore.

SpaceAge Labs has also found opportunities for scaling by working with other water technology startups — including Singapore-based company Environsens.

Environsens, a Imagine H2O Asia 2019 portfolio startup, is tackling the challenges of wastewater and toxicity monitoring. They have developed a sensor that automatically alerts utilities at abnormal levels of toxicity, which addresses the delays of physical sampling and testing of wastewater.

While the companies knew of each other previously, Imagine H2O Asia’s accelerator program made them realize how complementary their solutions were. While Environsens’ biosensor could effectively monitor toxicity levels, the solution was isolated — it lacked a way to aggregate the data collection and analysis across a number of different biosensors. SpaceAge Labs was thus able to offer Environsens an additional functionality by plugging into their ability to monitor multiple assets, allowing Environsens to integrate the data gathered from multiple sensors around Singapore. Since 2019, the startups have co-deployed around 100 units of their integrated solution in Singapore with PUB, with 75 more units to be deployed.

Learn more about Environsens here from our previous blog post.

“Imagine H2O Asia offers a fantastic platform for water entrepreneurs — it has a ton of experience in nurturing start-ups having been in the space for quite some time now, and also has an expansive network within the water industry ranging from potential partners, customers or investors. They are always there to hand hold and guide startups whenever necessary , and startups often feel engaged through their numerous industry networking events.”

Leela Krishna Sriramula, Chief Business Officer, SpaceAge Labs

Look out for the launch of our 2021 Imagine H2O Asia Accelerator in summer!