In October, I mentioned that sometimes it is difficult to find time to reflect on my work. This year is the first full calendar year I have spent on Water & Wastes Digest as managing editor and it was an absolute whirlwind. I’ve learned a lot about the industry, but there is still so much left to learn.
Last year around this time, I had written my first state of the industry report, which included a section on combined heat and power (CHP). Since then, I’ve visited several wastewater treatment plants that are harnessing the power of CHP and biogas capture, a technology that is also becoming more common, particularly in private sector industrial facilities that are looking to become more efficient and improve their bottom lines.
Another larger trend in the industry I’ve noticed this past year has been the ultimate buzzword for 2019: smart water. Depending on who you ask, smart water can mean myriad things. At AWWA ACE in Las Vegas in June, the first person to whom I mentioned this term said his company had been doing smart water for the past decade and that it finally had a name. And he posed a great question about how it should be defined because it means different things to different companies. Is smart water simply gathering data with meters, or does that data need to be processed and analyzed first? How do artificial intelligence and machine learning factor into the smart water equation?
Meanwhile, there are other companies using satellite telemetry to discover pockets of potential water supply to determine the location of pipe breaks when overlaid with a system’s GIS pipe networking map. Others are using virtual reality to plan new facilities or expansions.
Technology advancements have always driven markets forward, but those advancements are taking on a new look in this age of algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Computers can process loads of data faster than any human can, and it is accelerating advancement in many parts of our lives.
That kind of acceleration has me even more interested in what lies ahead of us in water and wastewater treatment. Perhaps these new computing technologies will spark the next innovation.