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Innovation speaker hails artificial intelligence as vital to water sector

Massive amounts of data.

Water utilities collect it, artificial intelligence is driven by it. Together, can they help solve water utilities’ most pressing issues?Mahesh Lunani

You bet, says Mahesh Lunani (pictured right and below), founder and CEO of Aquasight. He spoke on “Innovation and Artificial Intelligence – Improving Service and Performance for your Communities,” during the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) recent Council Summit, a gathering of member volunteers in Denver, Colo.

Lunani, who sold water pumps and performed data modeling early in his career, said the artificial intelligence of computers – in concert with the natural intelligence of humans – can take innovation a step further by analyzing streams of data to improve future outcomes.

“Utilities have data in abundance, and there are many utility challenges that can be met through artificial intelligence,” Lunani said.

For example, using data from sources such as meters, labs, SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), process models, and GIS (geographic information systems), artificial intelligence can predict a developing water quality issue and recommend measures to resolve it before it happens. This process also can be used to prevent such predictable problems as pump or pipe failures, water losses, and leaks at customer sites.

“It took years to hone, but the technology is ready,” Lunani said. “AWWA and its members can be part of the movement to educate, facilitate and drive adoption of artificial intelligence in the water sector.”

Mahesh LunaniBecause artificial intelligence is a relatively new concept, many utilities are intrigued by it, but few are using it. “It isn’t a priority on their list of things to accomplish,” Lunani said.

Also, utilities are coming from a long and successful history of proven practices developed through natural intelligence, so many are slower to adopt new artificial intelligence technology, especially if there aren’t many successful examples to assess.

To break through these barriers, Lunani said, there needs to be a “snowball effect” in the water sector created by forward-looking utility leaders, success stories, and standards and roadmaps.

And now is the time, he said. The U.S. and Canadian governments are placing a priority on developing applications for artificial intelligence. Data is available, the technology is ready, and it can be simple and inexpensive to scale throughout the water sector.

In addition, the next generation of water leaders can benefit from artificial intelligence’s ability to capture the knowledge and expertise of the large number of retiring water professionals.

Lunani estimates that by embracing the use of artificial intelligence, water utilities could save as much as $11 billion a year for their communities, based on his analysis of large utilities in the U.S. water sector.

“When it comes to artificial intelligence, the water sector should not be left behind,” he said. “You can create a digital legacy for your communities that can improve service and performance.”

Go to AWWA’s Innovation resource page for additional information.

 


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