Joint Interview with Claudio Jesus & Ηans Goossens – Water Europe Board Members for College C ‘ Utilities’
You were recently re-elected as Water Europe board members of college C ‘Utilities’- Could you tell us what drives you personally to have this role at Water Europe? What do you want to achieve?
Hans Goossens: The water utility sector is seeing challenges it has not faced before. Climate change with more and longer heatwaves intermitted by heavy rain bombs puts pressure on water availability, as well as flood management. The water management system needs to be redesigned in a climate- resilient manner. Innovation is the key word and needs joint efforts from public water utilities together with private companies, both large corporations and small start-ups, academics and public authorities. Personally, I am very convinced about the importance of bringing together the diversity of stakeholders with innovative breakthroughs in order to give an answer to the current and future challenges in the water world. Water Europe is in that sense unique, and much more than a confederation of utility companies, different from a lobbying network for international conglomerates and more inclusive than a research network.
Claudio de Jesus: I’m very keen to contribute to Water Europe with a slightly different view than the traditional one at the College of Utilities. Acting in the water sector markets in developing countries has deepened my understanding that the traditional approaches have to be adjusted to those realities, where aspects related to innovation are fundamental to fill the lack of resources available to technicians in the water sector. Creativity is the keyword if we want to support the achievement of universalization of water services as advocated by the Sustainable Development Goals.
Representing the utilities at Water Europe, which ones do you consider the key challenges and the most burning needs of this college and how do you contribute to addressing these in the context of Water Europe?
Hans Goossens: The utility sector is a capital-intensive sector with a long-established business model. Implementing innovative solutions puts pressure on the fundamentals of the business models of public utilities. The college shall address the need for new business models for public water utilities and promote all types of collaboration, initiatives and projects that support water utilities to find their new role in a new climate-resilient water supply and sanitation model.
Claudio de Jesus: We must always think of a holistic approach, moving away from traditional models. In fact, as we all know, utilities play a fundamental role in the context of Water Europe as these are the entities that most directly interact with citizens. Therefore the challenges of efficiency (water, energy and resources) are key aspects of a more efficient water public policy. Training and qualification of technicians in the water sector is also decisive for the achievement of the intended objectives.
Utilities are traditionally regarded as the problem owners & the ones in need of innovative solutions. How can utilities become more ambitious in adopting existing innovations & seizing the new opportunities presented?
Claudio de Jesus: It is essential to be more efficient and for that to happen it is essential to innovate permanently. Recently a leader of a multilateral financial organization emphasized that the pandemic has underscored the importance of having adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services worldwide. For this to come real it’s mandatory the commitment of all stakeholders and utilities will naturally play an important role only possible to fulfill with the best technologies and innovation solutions.
Hans Goossens: Utilities need to be challenged by the public on their readiness to guarantee water supply and sanitation under future climate scenario’s. They need to understand the urgency for adaption, and at the same time gain self-confidence on their capability to embrace change and see the opportunities that innovation can generate.
Based on our vision, Water Europe aims to build a Water Smart Society. From your point of view, which actions shall we put forward to make this happen and how could utilities contribute to that?
Claudio de Jesus: Water is without a doubt the most important resource on our planet. As such, water diplomacy is central to conflict prevention. Today, issues of water scarcity as well as its lack of quality are present in virtually every country in the world. The Water-Smart Society is all of this: it is vision, strategy and appropriate diplomacy applied to the correct management of water resources. And the role of Water Europe is, more than ever, fundamental in the pursuit of these goals.
Hans Goossens: Digital offers a whole range of new opportunities for more efficient water management and true customer centricity. The investments needed are substantial and the utility sector has the capability to make such type of investments. The data generated by the broad range of IoT devices offers massive opportunities for unrivalled new services. We need to capture the good examples, share them and stimulate the debate. The utility sector has a meaningful size and a tradition of sharing experience. It can be the lever itself to build the Water-Smart society.