Water Innovation, Pina Coladas and Getting Caught in the Rain

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – July 17, 2013 – Comment

If you’ve ever gotten caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella, you’ll appreciate a recent art installation from London-based art studio Random International. Their “Rain Room” is an indoor downpour that detects visitors and adjusts to keep them dry. Currently on display at MoMA’s EXPO 1: New York – a collection of ecologically focused projects – the installation is meant to encourage visitors to “explore the roles that science, technology and human ingenuity can play in stabilizing our environment.”

While my colleagues and I are not researching how to control rain, we are constantly exploring the roles that science, technology and human ingenuity play in innovations in the water/wastewater industry. Innovations are vital to finding solutions to industry challenges: climate change impacts, aging infrastructure, urbanization, resource shortages, new emerging substances, the need for sustainable development, etc.   

The issue is that the water industry can often be cautious when it comes to adopting new technologies. To that end, American Water has taken a proactive approach to leveraging our expertise and large and geographically diverse footprint to become an early-adopter of new technologies. Our unique program, called the Innovation Development Process (IDP), fills a vital need to seek innovative, cost effective, and sustainable solutions for all water utilities. It combines research and development, technical expertise, and infrastructure assets from both within our company and from external business partners.

The first innovation produced through the IDP is a partnership with ENBALA Power Networks, enabling that company’s Smart Grid technology to be tested. By connecting assets at Pennsylvania American Water’s Shire Oaks pumping system to the Smart Grid through ENBALA, that subsidiary offset its high electricity costs by delivering Grid Balance to PJM, the region’s electricity system operator – a win-win for everyone involved. Other innovations we’ve developed include NPXpress, a new technology that reduces the amount of energy and chemicals needed for wastewater treatment, and a partnership with Smart Earth Technologies (SET) for a standardized communications platform that creates interoperability among meter manufacturers – a significant development for water utilities.

While the innovations we’re creating through the IDP and our strategic partnerships may never make it to a famous museum, or garner multiple hour-long waits for visitors to explore, they will help our company, as well as other water service providers, to ensure that people can continue to count on clean, reliable water for decades to come. (And that means ice for those Pina Coladas too!)