Given the impending shortage of water in the world, it seems crazy we waste so much of the stuff. Estimates show that demand for fresh water could outrun supplies by 40% by 2030. And yet some utilities allow as much as 25% of their product to simply leak away. A combination of old, poorly maintained infrastructure and a lack of “visibility” in water systems are to blame, say experts.
The problem isn’t necessarily a lack of data. Many utilities have widespread sensors so they can measure flow rates, pressure, and water quality. The issue is how to make sense of the numbers, says Rotem Shemesh, marketing manager at TaKaDu, an Israeli startup that helps water companies manage their networks. Knowing how much water is flowing through a particular pipe isn’t useful if you don’t know why, she says. It could be because there’s a leak, or it could be because it’s a hot day and people are watering their gardens more than usual. The number isn’t descriptive in itself.
TaKaDu’s innovation is in statistical analysis. By monitoring thousands of miles of water networks in several countries, it’s able to establish a pattern of what a leak looks like. When the system recognizes a higher flow rate, it compares the pattern against both historical patterns for that sensor and similar sensors across the network. That way, it can avoid false alarms, and make sure engineers only go out when necessary, Shemesh says.
Shemesh gives an example from a TaKaDu customer in the Netherlands. During the Spain vs. Holland World Cup game on June 13, water consumption fell during the first half (presumably because everyone was watching TV), then jumped at halftime (probably because everyone went to the bathroom), then fell again in the second half. The software recognized that was a harmless pattern not because it watched the Dutch demolish the Spaniards, but because the pattern was the same system-wide, Shemesh explains.
TaKaDu was founded by Amir Peleg, a longtime entrepreneur who sold his previous startup to Microsoft. TaKaDu now has utility customers in eight countries and has received investment from 3M and power giant ABB. It’s also picked up several awards, including a Tech Pioneer prize from the World Economic Forum and last year’s Sustainia Award.
Shemesh claims TaKaDu has saved utilities millions of dollars by helping them plug their leaks. For example, Unitywater, in Queensland, Australia, cut its losses by 1 billion liters in one year, saving $1.9 million. She says: “If you had a factory that lost 25% [of its product] it would be awful. Water companies really do invest in water. They pump it, clean it, transport it, and then they lose it.”