The international water and sewage industry is facing major challenges. The systems are old with enormous investment needs in maintenance, renewal and upgrades. The solution to many of these problems is the necessary investment in digitization and AI.
Functioning water and sewage systems are an international issue. The need for water and sewage systems to work is a prerequisite for well-functioning societies and also an important part of the smart cities that many places are now trying to build. The problem and challenge is that while smart cities are about the future, water and sewage is about old technology, aging production and often obsolete pipe systems.
Giant infrastructure For many, water and sewage are a matter of course. Our communities' expanded water and sewerage systems are often invisible, but gigantic in the form of an innumerable number of waste, day and drinking water pipes, waterworks, sewage treatment plants, service pipes, reservoirs, pressure boosting stations and sewage pumping stations.
In total, this is a total invested value only in the Swedish water and sewerage systems of the equivalent of SEK 800 billion.
Big problems and challenges But the water and sewerage industry is facing very big challenges. Given that most of the Swedish water and sewerage facilities were built in the 1960s and 1970s, the need for reinvestment in maintenance, renewal and upgrades is enormous. This is in addition to the annual investments required to meet only tomorrow, which in Europe is estimated at 45,000 million Euros. The figures differ markedly between different countries, where the need for investment is greatest in countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Denmark.
- Add to this the densification and urbanization of our communities, as well as the fact that future climate change in the form of heavy rainfall and periods of persistent drought is expected to increase the strain on water and sewage systems, says Johannes Holmberg, CEO of AI company Calejo Industrial Intelligence, which helps water and sewage industry to optimize its processes.
Another threat is the increased security risk in the form of chemicals, cyber attacks, terrorism and other geopolitical aspects affecting both the water and sewage organizations and other parts of society directly and with full force.
- Sewage management threatens the environment, at the same time as clean water tends to become an increasingly scarce commodity both in Sweden and globally. To cope with all these challenges, the water and sewage organizations need to be provided with financial resources and new skills, says Johannes Holmberg.
Critical mass For efficient water and sewerage management and to be able to make the necessary investments, a critical mass is usually required. Therefore, several Swedish municipalities have merged into joint water and sewage companies. In this way, Umeå and Vindeln, among others, have chosen to collaborate in the jointly owned company Vakin. In Medelpad, the municipalities of Sundsvall, Timrå and Nordanstig collaborate in the joint company MittSverige Vatten and in the Stockholm area, several municipalities collaborate under the joint brand Roslagsvatten, which in turn collaborates with Norrvatten and Stockholm Vatten.
Important tool Digitization and especially AI is an important tool for being able to change the water and sewage industry's business models and increase customer value.
- An increased digitization of the business can provide better opportunities for necessary measurements of various physical, chemical and economic parameters. And here AI helps with the handling and analysis of large amounts of information for a better understanding of how existing and newly built facilities work, says Johannes Holmberg.
Several initiatives are therefore being implemented right now with the aim of AI-adapting the Swedish water and sewerage industry. The organization Svenskt Vatten has, like several consulting companies, initiated future-oriented investments. Umeå University, together with some of the industry's most important players in the Vinnova project VA Eko, has made a basic survey of the water and sewage challenges and digital solutions in Sweden.
AI optimizes the VA industry In addition, Sweco in collaboration with the AI company Calejo has activated several of its own AI projects together with a number of Swedish southern municipalities.
- We can clearly see that AI can be used for more efficient control and monitoring of water supply and sewerage networks, says Johannes Holmberg. In Calejo, we have created an AI tool, which with the help of digital twins and so-called gray box modeling of the processes helps customers to optimize their water and sewage processes.
Gray box modeling is a new and very effective method, which combines AI technology with traditional modeling.
- The digital twin is then used to optimize the process based on different scenarios such as energy consumption / production, environmental aspects or productivity, Johannes Holmberg concludes.
197,000 km of waste, day and drinking water pipes
About 1,500 waterworks.
Nearly 1,600 sewage treatment plants.
17,000 km of public service lines.
Over 200,000 km of private service lines.
2,300 booster stations.
16,000 sewage pumping stations.
37,000 so-called LTA (Low Pressure Exposed Sewage) stations.
Production of clean water: 900 million cubic meters per year.
The corresponding figure for wastewater management is significantly higher, as a result of precipitation and groundwater levels.