In her latest blog, FIDO CEO Victoria Edwards puts on her flying cape to discuss the four things water utilities need to build cross sector superhero partnerships to save Earth from water scarcity.
Marvel’s Avengers were not the first to grasp the benefits of uniting disparate talents in the battle against a common foe. Powerful new collaborative relationships are now arguably our best response to climate change. In my case, my assembled Avengers are Water Replenishers: water utilities, tech entrepreneurs and corporations.
Their talents may be very different from Wonder Woman, Thor and Captain America but their foe, water scarcity, is even more terrifying: life as we know it.
Sharing risks, pooling resources and having access to an expanded cross-sector talent pool, allows my team of Water Replenishers to ease the adoption of disruptive new technologies, expand organisational capability and use new transparent ways of tracking and quantifying performance.
I may be stretching the metaphor (I know I am), but this is just the start of the franchise. In real life, the real power of collaborations – like the one Microsoft, FIDO AI and Thames Water have just agreed in London – is their ability to pull other potential beneficiaries into their long-term orbit. Even to the extent of empowering individuals.
From my point of view, this is the ultimate aim: to create a global movement in which every person is a Water Replenisher. Where everyone understands the need for, and is equipped to play an active role in, protecting the most precious resource in their neighbourhoods.
So here’s my quick guide to the four things you need to deliver successful catalytic community action on water equity and SDG6.
You need a catalytic framework
The key thing about building superhero partnerships around water replenishment is that they must be immediate, local and auditable. That way, things get real, fast. And as the transparently quantifiable benefits begin to mount they should become an attractive force for other similarly-motivated stakeholders to get on board. The more aligned stakeholders there are, the more access the collective gets to varied, even unexpected, opportunities and skills. It’s a bit like the way tech, business and creative clusters work, leveraging benefits which are greater than the sum of their parts.
Water leakage is exactly the sort of quantifiable problem which lends itself to this kind of approach. It represents a localised impact on the environment, on the financial sustainability of utilities and on the economic sustainability of communities. Globally, around 30% of water is ‘lost’ from pipeline networks.
The other thing about leakage is that more than 90% never shows above ground and, until recently, technological advancements have centred on improving what are still a largely manual methods of detection. New technologies like AI have the potential to disrupt and open up new avenues for leak detection, such as community involvement.
You need aligned collaborators
Just like the Fantastic Four, unconventional partnerships need to be symbiotic before they become catalytic. Each individual organisation’s pain points may be different but the overarching goal must encompass them all.
In the case of the London collaboration, both Microsoft and Thames Water have lofty water replenishment goals they have publicly committed to. Microsoft’s is to be water positive by 2030. For Thames, one of the UK’s largest water companies, it is to halve leakage by 2050.
For FIDO, working with corporations gives access to a new ecosystem of expertise which sees scale and reach in a different way to utilities, which are frequently bound by regulation. It is accelerating the rate our innovative technology can be adopted and, through working with problem-solvers like LimnoTech, we have been able to add extra transparency to the volumetric water benefits we deliver.
You need to make it real
No-one defeated Thanos using an off-setting spreadsheet. The aim of water positivity is to return more physical water to a local river basin than is taken out. Not maintaining the status quo but to immediately improve water equity for all without destroying the natural environment.
At the heart of London’s unconventional partnership is FIDO’s actionable AI, which is being deployed on 350km of London’s public water network for the next ten years. FIDO listens to the water network, automatically spotting invisible leaks and flagging the largest for priority repair. Knowing exactly where your largest leaks are means you can fix them first, saving more water faster and using less manpower to do it.
FIDO tracks leaks by volume from the moment they are detected until repair is verified and performs against KPIs which are aligned to the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard, a robust, internationally-recognised framework and certification. This ensures that benefits are auditable, transparent and can be associated with water balance on a watershed by watershed basis.
You need to be alive to future opportunities
It’s a mistake to think of a disruptor like FIDO AI as fixed-in-time-solution and, as a global tech company itself, Microsoft sees that. That single fact unlocks a range of new possibilities which just need the right collaborator to take forward.
FIDO AI’s decision-making is continually improving with the verified information it receives from its analysis of leaks around the world. The scale of our leak library means we are able to make feature enhancements in response to the changing needs of our clients. It’s how leak-sizing happened.
The long-term relationships we’ll build with utilities like Thames Water means we will deliver up a wealth of information about their network, and we’ll be able to work with them on their specific challenges.
But the thing that most excites me about building new collaborations is the opportunities it provides for entrepreneurs like us to respond positively to issues which are on the fringes of water equity, but will be absolutely critical to solving it.
High among these are educating communities and the next generation of climate engineers.
Civic skills, fostering entrepreneurship and creating jobs are not obvious targets for a collaboration focussed on water replenishment, but there is no reason they won’t be.
The algorithms behind our artificial intelligence are super smart and the hardware elements in our sensors are very sensitive. They interface using a simple app. We are already working with manufacturers on getting the price down through simpler design. Imagine an intelligent sensor so simple a child could make it easily from a kit of low-cost parts, like the Raspberry Pi. We could crowd-find leaks by gamifying data upload using a downloadable app, like Pokemon Go! People could see in real time their impact on water balance, gaining instant insight into water availability while acting as free resource for utilities without even realising it.
Unconventional partnerships have the superpower to revolutionise and democratise the way we manage the critical challenge of our time, if we let them. We better had, because, in the immortal words of Black Widow, ‘If we can’t figure out how to stop working against each other, we’re going to lose’.
FIDO’s collaboration with Microsoft and Thames Water has been identified as one of the ten biggest ideas for water utilities in 2023 by organisers of the Global Water Summit in Berlin. Victoria Edwards will be among the panel of ’10 Utility Game Changers’ which takes place on the first day of the conference on Tuesday May 9 at 4.30pm CET.