Alain Dedieu, President, Water and Wastewater Segment at Schneider Electric & Water Europe Board Member of Multinational Corporations
You are a Water Europe board member of college A ‘Multinational Corporations’- Could you tell us what drives you personally to have this role at Water Europe? What do you want to achieve?
There are many reasons, but if I must select one, it is accelerating change towards sustainability in water. Until February this year, sustainability in Europe was more about how we are going to make the process of water net zero by 2030. Net zero means changing the source of energy, reusing renewable energies, and having a roadmap to conduct the necessary implementations. Since February 2022, utilities have started to ask themselves ’How are we going to be able to reduce the energy cost by the end of the month?’ The energy cost of the municipalities and utilities is 65% and above of the cost.
Personally, with my current role as Water and Wastewater Segment President at Schneider Electric, I believe that I gather a seasoned experience in all the five continents in industrial automation and in energy management that can bring an added-value discussion and influence on how to apply combined Process & Power Performance optimization. If something is working somewhere in the world, I want Europe to study the tested, validated practice and apply where it makes sense allowing much more agility for European countries to make the transition.
Why is it important for Schneider Electric to be part of Water Europe?
Schneider is a French company part of CAC 40 and committed to many non-profit entities that are helping to push public and private sector toward more efficiency, resilience and overall sustainability. We have been watching Water Europe’s work promoting across borders the European vision for water supply and sanitation by 2030 with several key materializations across the years. Just like Water Europe, Schneider is accountable for making innovative contributions, and by being part of this association and its ecosystem, we hope to support solving major European water problems.
Which ones do you consider the biggest challenges of the European water sector, at the moment, and how do you see us overcoming them?
If you would ask me one year ago, I would answer differently. Today the challenges countries and respective utilities face in Europe is not anymore about ‘Let’s start the roadmap for 2040’. It’s how they can first reduce the energy of an energy saving programme by 20% now, and how they can reuse the energy they are generating in their waste process. In countries like Italy, the energy cost has been multiplied by four and in Germany, the cost of energy for the water operations has been multiplied by six.
Another issue is how we are going to reduce non-revenue water. e.g. the leaks, the evaporation, poor processes etc.
At the end of the day, it’s all about resource management. Resources are scarce. And how do we help companies that want to be more efficient and resilient? We cannot continue to have water management based on a continuous process that sees water as infinite. Currently, the processes must adjust the water and treatment of the wastewater according to what is happening in the environment. And it needs to take into consideration periods when the cost of energy is lower. One example we started to observe is the treatment of the water during the night, where the cost is lower and then, storing it during the day. It’s all about designing the process with resilience and efficiency as a master process. Efficiency is, traditionally, a combination of process optimization and resource optimization.
The solution to manage water resources in Europe and across the world lies in digital technologies. Digital enables visibility of what’s happening in real assets, visibility around measurements, performance, situation. The second benefit of going digital is the capability to manage complex situations and to be more predictive using Artificial Intelligence.
We have seen that the water industry is not just a plant or a pipe. It is an ecosystem. Thus, data will be able to remove the existing silo effects in water. This is mainly because for a utility to be capable to correctly manage your plant, they will need to know the weather forecast.
If we want to change the other hour/day/month, the correct management of the resource should be secured with a GIS system, connectivity and information about the price of the energy.
At the end of the day, the solution is well beyond developing new pipes and securing leaks. It’s about having new technologies around filtering on micro filtering. But then again, to have a holistic approach to the water ecosystem, the biggest transformation of the water sector will be around implementing digital platforms.
Building a Water-Smart Society is our vision. Which actions shall we prioritise to make this happen?
Data gathering and data management. Gathering data to feed the process and adjusting the process according to real-time data. Water must become a data-driven business.
Change management. The water industry is ageing quickly because in the last decades, it hasn’t created attractiveness for the young generations. But that doesn’t need to be the case any longer. With metaverse, for instance, plants are being shown in front of the screen and there is a 3D simulation of the plant, and an operator can go everywhere, having access to more information than he could when he was looking directly at the motor.
Therefore, first, we see the generation of people that are not digital native and are both reluctant and lacking skills. With the new generation getting to the market, utilities and municipalities need to recruit new people because the movers are going out soon and understand that the new generation will not work the same way they were doing before.
The second priority is cybersecurity. Cyber securing your processes needs to become a master process. As soon as you digitize a system, at some point, you are connecting to the cloud and with that connecting your system to the external world.
Subsequently, every company in the world now must develop a cybersecurity plan to be as protected as it could be in this domain. We have service providers, we have solution providers, we have consultants that can help companies to make the transition. This is part of the basics of any business.