Saving water with IoT solutions

Did you know that about 30% of water on its way from water suppliers to end-users gets lost? And that the total length of public freshwater pipelines in a city like Gothenburg roughly equals the distance from Oslo to Rome?

With fresh water becoming a scarcer resource, Startups helping consumers, industry and the public sector manage water resources and consumption are on the rise. I’ve spoken to Niklas Wicén from Aqua Robur, a Swedish Startup that help reduce water losses on the journey from the water suppliers to the end-users.

The problem

Scientists predicts water shortage to be a key environmental challenge this century.

Public water networks are in bad conditions and leak a lot, Niklas explains. And since the pipeline networks are extremely long it’s difficult to see or detect leakages in the networks, he adds. Providing solutions to address this challenge is one of the key motivations for this Startup.

In Europe the water leakage from the pipes connecting suppliers and end-users are about 30%, resulting in significant losses. With water becoming more and more scarce, an important part of adopting to climate change is taking better care of the fresh water we have. Cities like Oslo and Gothenburg alone have about 1700 km of underground freshwater pipelines supplying water to the end user.  Most of these water pipes are in addition very small and cannot be seen.”

To provide some context, 1700 km is longer then the length of Sweden and would almost equal the distance from Oslo to Rome.

The solution

Aqua Robur is a tool to help monitor public fresh-water pipelines, enable tracking of the overall condition of the pipeline and detection of leaks that occur throughout the pipeline-network, Niklas explains.

“Our solution includes sensors along the network that measure water flows, pressure and more and that detects leaks by analyzing changes in water flows & pressure over time and by comparing different locations. The sensors inside the pipelines are self-powered, and the waterflow in the pipes are used to power the sensors, avoiding the normal challenges with securing energy supply to the sensors”

When I ask what happens afterwards, Niklas explains that their solutions provide data to enable effective maintenance of the water infrastructure but that this is only a first step.

“Once a leak is detected, it will be up to public authorities to decide is the problem is big enough to fix. But the difficult thing is detecting the leak. In general, the water infrastructure is old and has a change rate of about 0,4-0,5%, implying that it only gets changed once every 200-250 years. We believe it’s important not to push huge mountains of maintenance to the next generation. And that’s why it’s important with smart devices so that it can be done smartly.”

Who is Aqua Robur

Aqua Robur started as a student project at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. Niklas originally started off with a completely different idea. A different product for a different market. He explains that he started the process of finding a more attractive market and attractive customers and moved to water technology and green technology.

“We started up three years ago and we’ve been selling to customers for about a year. We are now in an exciting phase where we are about to launch our first industrialised product. The project was started by 3 students together with Chalmers Ventures and a group if inventors. We are now a team of 6 people.”

Niklas says he finds inspiration at multiple levels: Finding and delivering on customer needs, getting customer feedback, building optimal technology, making it work and addressing climate change are all motivating factors.

The 3 key milestones in your journey so far?
  • “One of the main milestones was defining and finding the customer need. Nothing gives as much energy as finding this need. Realizing that you’re on to an idea.
  • The second was having a working prototype.
  • And the third was the transformation from being an early startup to becoming a real commercial player, ready to scale.”
The main ways Aqua Robur contributes to the SDGs?

Having the SDGs in mind is very important for us, Niklas explains. 

SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation – This is very obvious. We help improve access to clean water for many different people throughout the world, and our solution is relevant for both developed and developing countries.

SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production – Adaptation to climate change is something we have to cope with already today, and we really want to contribute to this. With our solutions we help avoid water losses with water being a scarce recourse.”

Where do you see Aqua Robur in 3-5 years? 

“We are now in a very exiting phase where we deliver our technology to different customers. Currently we are working in Sweden, and we also just delivered one system to Spain. The objective is to be present in different markets of the world, always with a cost calculation determining the markets we enter. In regions like America and Asia our technology can have an even a higher impact, as water resources will become scarcer and more valuable.”

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