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Measure It, Manage It, Conserve It — What Does Digital Mean for Water in 2020?
Join Imagine H2O Asia and Enterprise Singapore at SWITCH 2020 for Digital Desert: Innovating for Water Resilience (December 7; 7–8 PM SGT), a session exploring the opportunities for digitizing Asia’s water infrastructure. You can also learn more about Imagine H2O Asia and its 2020 cohort at the Imagine H2O Asia Digital Booth at SWITCH Online City (December 7–11) or visit www.sffxswitch.com to learn more.
As the world reels from the pandemic, the climate and water risks facing the Asia-Pacific are intensifying. Over 40% of the continent’s population will face severe water scarcity by 2050. While the alarm bells are ringing, water use continues to rise with demand in Asia, and is expected to equal the rest of the world combined by mid-century. The pursuit of universal access to safe water and sanitation — non-negotiables for COVID 19 response and recovery–is further threatened by environmental pollution, urbanization and climate disruption.
Countries across ASEAN find themselves on the frontlines with a growing share of its 600 million inhabitants living in low-lying, flood-prone cities. In response, utilities and businesses across Southeast Asia are embracing innovation as a new generation of water tech entrepreneurs emerges with solutions to boost water supply and reuse, mitigate pollution and strengthen climate resilience.
THERE IS NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT
Water startups are tapping into a global market that is expected to surpass US$900 billion by 2023. The number and quality of water startups vying for a piece of the pie is increasing, but many continue to face challenges that stymie growth including long sales cycles and lack of financing.
In partnership with Enterprise Singapore, Imagine H2O Asia was launched in 2019 to provide founders with the resources to overcome these barriers and scale their businesses throughout Southeast Asia. The program utilizes its base in Singapore to support the development of the country’s water startup ecosystem while creating new market opportunities for global solutions addressing the wider region’s water challenges.
“Water is a finite resource and governments and businesses alike are increasingly looking to sustainable water management solutions to support growing populations and business needs. Innovation will be key in advancing water sustainability and resilience,” says Mr Yeoh Choon Jin, Director, Urban Solutions, Enterprise Singapore. “Singapore’s commitment to water stewardship, coupled with its growing startup ecosystem, creates the ideal launchpad for accelerator programs like Imagine H2O Asia to scale entrepreneurial solutions to serve the region’s needs.”
Singapore’s vision to be a global hydrohub has been long in the making. Anchored by its track record as an early adopter of innovation, the country continues to expand its resources to develop home-grown startups as well as providing test-bedding opportunities for global entrepreneurs. Despite the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, the country has doubled down on its commitment. In February of this year, the country announced a S$100b commitment to build and deploy new solutions to tackle climate change and rising sea levels.
DIGITAL WATER: A FINAL FRONTIER
Software, automation and analytics, ubiquitous in many other sectors of the economy, will play a vital role in upgrading legacy systems and future-proofing water infrastructure. Indeed, digitization features prominently in Singapore’s 50-year water roadmap, from 24/7 water quality monitoring to predictive intelligence for plant operations. However, these tools remain largely underutilized across Southeast Asia, creating new commercial opportunities for founders from within and outside the water industry.
During Digital Desert: Innovating for Water Resilience, an interactive dialogue hosted on December 7 at Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH) 2020, industry experts will explore the technology and investment potential in digital water. The session spotlights early-movers who are leveraging diagnostic and predictive tools to manage water and wastewater resources; crucial in responding to today’s crisis, but equally important to prioritize future infrastructure investments.
“The current crisis is revealing for the future of digital water because as water and wastewater operators we had to keep this essential service going despite so many unknowns,” says Annelise Avril, SVP, Research, Innovation & Digital Transformation at SUEZ, and a speaker at SWITCH 2020. “Digital tools for applications like remote operations and predictive scenarios are the special ingredients that help us navigate this uncertainty, making our infrastructure smarter but also more resilient to future shocks. Annelise adds, “At the same time, the value of innovation in this space is about the outcomes, not the technology itself. This opens the door to greater participation from founders in related sectors like healthcare, power and fintech.”
Imagine H2O Asia offers a front-row seat to digital water in action: AI-powered analytics, provided by SmartTerra, help Indian cities reduce water losses due to leaky pipes; Water quality sensors, offered by Environsens, provide utilities with early-detection of unexpected or illegal discharge into sewer networks; and IOT platforms, delivered by SpaceAge Labs, enable low-power wireless data transmission to monitor the health of remote infrastructure assets in real-time.
However, big data and analytics are no longer standalone technologies for the water sector. Increasingly, these tools must be integrated across the lifecycle of water and wastewater infrastructure — from design and construction to operations and maintenance. Across the ten companies selected for Imagine H2O Asia 2020, digital water is par for the course. As SWITCH convenes global tech leaders for a week of knowledge sharing and networking next week, the opportunity is ripe to showcase these innovators and elevate the role of technology in managing the world’s most precious resource.