While 5% of the world’s population resides in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the region has less than 1% of the world’s available water supply yet it is home to the highest consumers of water in the world.
Despite recent efforts to boost water supply, the demand – supply gap continues to widen due to increased economic activity and high population growth.
With water demand in MENA expected to increase 62% by 2025, according to various industry studies, investments in the region’s water sector are expected to grow exponentially.
$80bn-worth of water and wastewater projects are currently planned or under way across the GCC alone, with projects covering all segments of the water sector.
Governments are now taking deliberate measures that combine conservation, supply capacity and operational efficiency in a bid to ensure uninterrupted access to water.
Amidst climate change and increasing extreme weather conditions such as drought and flooding, scientists and water experts are calling for a more efficient water management that could help address this looming global crisis.
While integrated policies and effective management of resources play significant roles to solving water problems, technology and innovation provide solutions that could help cities, communities, and urban developers to efficiently manage and optimise available resources.
Smart water systems based on the combination of Internet of Things, big data and AI technologies are helping to drive water conservation and to boost water security across the world by using smart sensors to monitor, control and regulate the usage and quality of water resources as well as maintain the associated equipment.
Today, smart water technology brings transparency and improved control to the whole water supply chain starting from a freshwater reservoir to wastewater collecting and recycling.
One of the companies driving smart water management is Droople, Cleantech Company headquartered in Switzerland.
Droople develops innovative IoT solutions for intelligent water asset management. Droople AI-enabled systems allow customers worldwide to accurately measure and analyse their water assets for monitoring, predicting maintenance and unlocking water and energy savings
Recently,Utilities Middle East paid a visit to Droople’s headquarters in in Puidoux, Vaud, Switzerland and spoke to the company’s CEO and Founder, Ramzi Bouzerda.
Can you briefly tell us about yourself and what you do here?
I was born in Algeria in 1973, came to Switzerland at 6yo with my mother to live with my father in 1980. I grown up in Lausanne, graduated from EPFL as computer scientist engineer in 2001, a former entrepreneur during my studies with a first startup, then started a banking career and now I’m back to entrepreneurship with Droople since 2018
What has been the main motivation for you to be doing what you are doing today?
Many reasons, first of all I was looking for a challenge in my professional career and a challenge that could make an impact on climate change and sustainability. Secondly, the idea (link to the story behind droople) of droople started in my kitchen at 3AM when I was trying to fill the baby bottle of my son, then I wondered why my faucet tap can’t help me do that easily. Finally, my children as I would like to tell them that I did my best to let them grow up in a better world with a more sustainable future.
How important is water conservation and how much does society value it?
There is a strong paradox in our societies actually because water is life but we do not value water as it should be. Water conservation is an easy way to protect water resources individually with simple, concrete, daily behavioural change based on data-driven insights and more globally as a society when it is embedded in any infrastructure, process, and design.
What role can technology play in driving sustainable water management?
Technology, like IoT and AI are enablers of data-driven insights and decision making for an informed awareness that will drive water conservation measures, efficiency but also for optimization of processes like the matching between hot water production and hot water consumption. This is something that makes sense however today we produce hot water in a boiler, we keep it warm and we wait until someone will come and use it.
What is Droople and how is it enabling sustainable water management?
Droople is decentralising and distributing water monitoring with IoT and AI on the last mile of the water grid to predict the maintenance of water assets, orchestrate hot water supply with demand, predict water risks related to stagnation at point-of-use and localize leakage within any buildings. Plus, we onboard the occupants who have been always perceived as a water bill payer only with awareness and data-driven insights for better water conservation.
Can you tell us about your in-house technologies tailored for the water industry?
Droople Dispenser OS (OS for Operating system combining hardware and software) is a turnkey solution designed for operators that deploy, maintain and supply consumables for water coolers in hospitality venues and offices of Corporates. We offer on top of the operating platform an awareness screen that demonstrate the sustainable / economical / usage impact of the water dispenser to its end-users, promoting single-use plastic bottles reduction and a more sustainable way of drinking water.
Droople EverClean OS is a turnkey solution designed for facility managers that clean shared restrooms in commercial malls, airports, etc. Thanks to water usage insights, they are able to clean only when necessary thanks to affluence-based prediction saving 25% of OPEX, paper-less cleaning controls and active monitoring for leakage and blocked flushes enabling 10% of water waste reduction.
Droople TeachMe OS is a hand hygiene promotion and water conservation tool based on a gamification algorithm able to assess who is washing his hands after using toilets or not, average duration of the hand wash and water & CO2 footprint of those activities during the day for schools.
Droople Building OS is a full water management solution that delivers different services like water monitoring on the main line of the building (leakage detection, active monitoring), management of filtration systems for the building, management of the boiler and hot water demand-supply coordination, management of PoU, management of water risks, awareness for occupants.
How much success have you registered in promoting these technologies in the Middle East and globally?
Droople started its market exploration in MENA in 2020 during the Sustainability Week at Abu Dhabi. Thanks to the traction we got we have started in 2021 a partnership / sponsorship of Water Alliance UAE in order to reach Schools with our TeachMe OS solution. Now we are targeting Facility Managers of Hotels and Commercial Malls like Enova, Farnek, DryDock.gov.ae.
How different are your products compared to the competition?
The competition is still monitoring water to deliver insights for one point of measurement. Droople technology is patented and unique as it is versatile with a wide range of water assets. Where you can find a solution for a single asset, Droople leverages water intelligence from many end-points, extracting and delivering unique actionable insights and decision making.
Who are the main off-takers of your solutions and what feedback are you getting from them?
Our main off-takers are facility managers and operators of water dispensers and filtration systems. We enable them to reduce unplanned maintenance, automated consumable replenishment and enable water-energy efficiency.
What challenges are you facing in promoting these products and how do you address them?
Those players are prone to deploy our solutions however their expectations in terms of quality of service from Droople is very high which is a challenge for a 3-years old startup with 13 drooplets. Connectivity is also a burden as LoRA is not provided anywhere so we have to deploy our own LoRA network while deploying our IoT drooples. Coming back to water conservation sensitivity and awareness, some markets are not yet ready to implement water efficiency measures, technologies and best practices because it is still perceived as a nice to have. We are able to overcome those challenges because we are committed to demonstrating that better water asset management leads to less OPEX cost, more sales and more water-energy efficiency. In conclusion, what is good for their pocket is good for the planet!
Cybersecurity concerns are a major barrier to adoption of smart technologies. How do you address this?
Our adoption of the LoRAWAN protocol which is one of the more secure IoT architectures with end-to-end encryption, hardware authentication and non-repudiation enable a far more secure digital twin than with classical Wi-Fi wireless architectures. Of course, the weakest point of Cybersecurity practices (I’m a former Head of Audit for large banks in Switzerland) is always the human factor. This is why we are committed to train our customers to a more cyber-friendly behaviour in terms of password, authentication, and API management.
Beyond technology, what else needs to be done to build a culture of water conservation in the Middle East?
Droople is convinced that education is the first pillar of building a water conservation culture. The religious background in MENA is keen to value water conservation practices meanwhile it is also using a lot of water for ablution for example. Today, I don’t know if a mosque is monitoring water usage or promoting water conservation within their communities. We need to bring more water usage insights to our children in the Middle East to help them change their perception, culture, and awareness about the forthcoming challenges around water resource preservation. Those generations will lead a major change in that region for the next decades. COVID has proven that hand hygiene is key to prevent the spread of the virus, tomorrow we need to implement behavioural change without waiting for a virus to call for action.