Making the most of existing infrastructure

Mitch Donnelly, UK Managing Director SUEZ Digital Solutions.
Mitch Donnelly, UK Managing Director SUEZ Digital Solutions.

Q and A with Mitch Donnelly, UK Managing Director, SUEZ Digital Solutions, an experienced C Suite leader in the water services and energy industries with over twenty years’ experience of leading large complex, international, cross-functional teams. In particular, Mitch has had extensive involvement and responsibility for technology development in smart metering, AI, and digital solutions.

What are the critical challenges that the UK water sector faces?

MD: We are dealing with several significant challenges. First and foremost, there’s the impact of climate change. The unpredictability has hit the industry hard. On the whole, water used to be pretty consistent, with expected patterns of supply and demand. Now what we are seeing is more sewer overflows, water scarcity, extra stress, cracks, and breakages on an already ageing pipe network. On the other hand, the industry’s commitment to achieving net zero targets means strict compliance with evolving regulation and adapting to new sustainability practices.

When things start changing at a rapid pace you need to know what is going on and where in your network. You need response options at your disposal – quickly. We have had an explosion of data over the last decade; the use of systems, controls and sensors has expanded rapidly creating a huge pool of data that isn’t all well connected and so it is hard to have clarity. There is a block in the seamless integration of crucial information needed to make smart decisions and run things efficiently. It’s like having puzzle pieces scattered all over the place when you really need to put the whole picture together.

Meeting consumers’ growing expectations is high on the agenda. For an affordable price the public assumes they will receive a consistent, reliable supply of clean and safe drinking water, excellent customer service, infrastructure maintenance and investment, first class emergency response and all delivered by an environmentally responsible supplier.

To add to all of this, the industry has been slow in embracing and adopting innovative solutions, making it harder to keep up with the dynamic water landscape. So, lots of inter-related challenges.

What unique strengths and advantages does SUEZ bring to the global and UK digital solutions marketplace for water utilities, differentiating it from its competitors?

MD: SUEZ’s edge lies in its 160-plus years of water experience through which we’ve developed a wealth of practical insights and knowledge. Many in the UK are not aware that we operate globally, running water and wastewater plants and networks right across Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. We have used that experience to develop solutions tailored to improve operational efficiencies and address pressing issues like climate change and its effects.

Our solutions have benefitted from many thousands of collective working years of experience. They have been created by operators for operators. Our digital solutions teams have worked directly with operators on both the operational and customer facing sides of water company control rooms to make sure that the solutions work for them, providing operators with practical tools to make their roles and operations run smoothly.

Our significant investment in research and development has delivered a comprehensive range of digital services that improve investment choices and operational decision making for the water industry. We help to cut energy usage, decrease overflows, optimise chemical use, reduce leakage, and lower water consumption. Our technologies help make things run more efficiently, economically, and sustainably.

What is SUEZ doing to protect the environment?

MD: For over a century, SUEZ’s commitment to the environment has never wavered. More than just a company; we are a passionate community fueled by innovation, teamwork, and a drive to make a difference. Our mission is clear: we are here to conserve water, turn waste into valuable resources whether it is recycled materials or energy, and champion sustainable practices. We are deeply rooted in our communities, dedicated to securing a better future for both people and the planet. This is truly the essence of the SUEZ strategy, where protecting the environment and driving progress go hand in hand.

Could you provide additional insights into the digital solutions and services that SUEZ offers?

MD: SUEZ is at the forefront in addressing the water industry’s crucial climate challenges with our extensive suite of digital solutions. Our offering includes AQUADVANCED® (Energy, Water Networks, Urban Drainage, Plant), ON’Connect™ Smart Metering, Optimizer™, AssetAdvanced™, and our leakage suite, including Satellite Leak Detection.

For instance, our real-time software for network management and optimisation, and satellite leak detection both contribute significantly to reducing water network leakages. Our satellite surveillance for wastewater networks, a first for the UK, and our real-time urban drainage optimisation tool both help reduce pollution from wastewater.

Other benefits include enhanced operational efficiency with Aquadvanced Plant, optimised investment strategies with Optimizer and AssetAdvanced, and reduced per capita consumption through smart metering. We can also help water companies reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions with our Aquadvanced Energy and AirAdvanced® range of solutions.

How is SUEZ aligning its solutions for climate change?

MD: Simply put, our strategy is to help water companies make the most of their existing infrastructure, optimising what they already have before they make significant capital investments. We also help utilities understand which investments will work best for them. Our focus also extends to addressing key issues like energy consumption, working toward net zero goals, mitigating combined sewer overflows (CSOs), and reducing leakage.

Digital solutions play a pivotal role by providing real-time data analytics, helping water network operators make informed decisions that promote energy savings, leakage reduction, and overall environmental preservation. It’s a thoughtful approach, especially in an industry that often leans towards risk aversion. For instance, reservoirs are typically kept at 80%-90% full. But with digital solutions using real-time data and predictions, we can safely lower those levels as we have a more holistic view of water supply and demand across the network. This frees up space for other purposes, such as flood prevention or to accommodate unexpected high rainfall. It’s a bit of a balancing act; people tend to stick to higher levels when they don’t have these numbers and insights. By taking calculated risks supported by data and analysis, we can mitigate potential challenges and work toward a more sustainable future.

We don’t stop at water and wastewater. We also have a whole suite of air quality solutions through our AirAdvanced® system, which complements all our other digital platforms and provides a holistic approach to water management and environmental protection.

Can you shed light on the strategies and investments SUEZ is making to reshape the landscape of the UK water industry over the next 5 to 10 years?

MD: As said, SUEZ isn’t new to the water industry, having been suppliers for well over a century, and we are actively spearheading innovation. For the past 15 years, we’ve been developing cutting-edge digital solutions – a continuous pipeline of new product developments that adapt to the industry’s changing needs – and we have recently announced that the company will double investment in research and development.

Our goal? To help modernise and future-proof the UK water and wastewater systems. But we’re not going at it alone. We’re all about collaboration, sharing insights, and fostering meaningful and productive discussions that lead to positive outcomes for the industry.

We have a pool of 150 researchers and 1,100 technical experts worldwide across 10 R&D centres of excellence in France and Asia. For example, as part of our network we have cutting-edge metrology labs that conduct exacting trials on meters, a specific pipe ageing and testing facility, a sensor and measurements centre, and a stormwater centre of excellence. One team focuses on watching for new technologies that come on the market from anywhere around the world and then reviews them to assess their viability. These are all first-class resources to benefit our own and our customer’s drinking water and wastewater businesses.




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