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Smart water

“We need new business models”

Dr. Michael Prange, general manager of the German Water Partnership (GWP), sees great potential for business in the intelligent and sustainable use of water.

Dr. Prange, water is a key resource for virtually all areas of our lives. What issues and trends do you think are important for the water market?

Michael Prange: Here in Germany we are in a fairly comfortable situation – water is generally not scarce, and the treatment of wastewater is not an issue. The situation worldwide is quite different: there is not only water scarcity – just think of the Middle East – but also challenges in the treatment of waste­water and keeping bodies of water clean. This is the case particularly in Asia but also in Latin America. So, from a global perspective, clean water is a scarce and valuable resource.

What contribution can German companies make here?

Michael Prange: The German water sector benefits from 150 years of ­experience in technology, application, and management. Especially in developing countries and emerging markets, the demand for innovative technological expertise and qualified water management is rising rapidly, and German companies can use their knowledge and their standards to make an important contribution to the sustainable management of water resources.

What role does Siemens play for you here?

Michael Prange: For us it is very positive that Siemens is engaged as a global company – not least as an ambassador for what we represent as an organization. When Siemens invests internationally, it always exports standards and benchmarks. Siemens is also a technology partner, not only in the area of water but also in the process industry, especially when we consider water as a raw material for industry. Also with future ­issues, such as the link between ­water and energy, Siemens has the necessary products and is one of the few companies worldwide that can develop complete solutions.

Speaking of the future, the opportunities for digitalization are being hotly discussed in many industries. Does this include water?

Michael Prange: Digitalization is one of the most important issues in the business world. As is so often the case, the automotive industry is the pioneer here. Things move more slowly in the water industry, but many interesting applications of big data and smart, networked systems are conceivable here as well. Technologically, we already have a good foundation – control systems make a great deal of information available that can be put to use. The question for me is what new business models can be developed from digitalization so that businesses can benefit when they make their data available to others.

Are there already ideas in this regard?

Michael Prange: In my view, urbanization offers several starting points. Megacities generate great synergies if the various areas of infrastructure are networked – from energy generation to water and sanitation to flood management. Significant cost savings can be realized just through joint planning of systems such as pipelines and cable routing – not to mention the benefits provided by linking the power supply and water management.

What are these benefits?

Michael Prange: The water industry is a major energy consumer, for instance, in pumping stations. If I link the water supply data with information that is provided to me from wind farms, for example, then I can better coordinate supply and demand. If there is a lot of wind and a great deal of power, I can fill reservoirs, thus killing two birds with one stone: the excess electricity from renewable sources is used wisely and the water system saves money. In addition, we also need to have solutions to manage different water systems efficiently and safely – drinking water, industrial water, gray water, sewage. Soon two-thirds of people will live in cities, and only in rare cases will cities with 30 or 40 million inhabitants be self-sustaining. Sustainability will then become a task that will present new challenges to all regions and countries. And I find that very positive, because sustainability means you conserve resources, and that ultimately results in cost savings. In this respect, the sustainable use of water can also be a competitive ad­vantage. We are developing solutions for sustainability under the Water 4.0 initiative and also working closely with Siemens.

Dr. Prange, thank you for speaking with us.

Picture credits: Siemens AG/Publicis Pixelpark