Interview with Mark LeChevallier, Director of Innovation & Environmental Stewardship, American Water
How is American Water working with tech companies and other utilities to encourage innovation in water and/or wastewater? In 2009 American Water developed the Innovation Development Process (IDP) as a mechanism to more efficiently evaluate and implement new technologies. We are unique in that we operate all across the US (and in parts of Canada), we own or operate over 300 drinking water, 200 wastewater, about 20 reclaimed water, and several desalination systems. We have a dedicated research staff that can evaluate a new technology, develop the “business case” for why a water utility would use the technology, and then drive early adoption of the technology through our footprint. We can then partner with our innovator to help market that technology to the rest of the water industry in North America.
How can innovative business models help utilities adopt improvements outside the traditional capital procurement process? People will use a technology once it’s been proven to work. But to validate a technology you can’t just have one or even a few examples – it needs to be shown to be effective numerous times before the water industry will consider a technology “proven.” That’s where American Water’s IDP can help in that we can provide that replication – and as a water utility ourselves – we can share our personal experience with the technology to other like-minded utilities.
How can utilities become leaders in water stewardship, and where does technology play a role in this? Water utilities are facing a myriad of challenges, from climate change to changing expectations; from aging infrastructure to an aging workforce; from financial pressures to pressure management. Technology will be the solution to these challenges so that reliability, quality, and efficiency can be simultaneously achieved.
Thinking 10 years ahead of now, what are the biggest changes that will happen in water and wastewater services for the US? The next big change will be data integration and consolidated operations. We will be monitoring multiple treatment plants from a few centralized locations.
What are the biggest technical challenges facing water and wastewater services in the US today? Water is under-valued and too fragmented so innovators do not see this space as profitable to invest their time in. We see it differently and our challenge is to have enough minutes in the day to address all the opportunities that are present in this industry.
What kinds of technologies and solutions are you most interested in? What will you be looking for at the upcoming World Water-Tech Investment Summit?
Water systems employ a vast range of technologies, from source water management, to treatment, distribution, meter reading, billing and customer service. We’ve been able to find innovations across the spectrum. Each year that we’ve attended the Summit, we’ve walked away with many leads, where at least one will develop into a business partnership. We are looking for people interested in bringing their technology to the US market ad forming a partnership to validate and implement the technology.
Mark LeChevallier will be speaking at the World Water-Tech Investment Summit, London, February 22 -24, 2016