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Dr Chlorine thinks….

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Come out, come out wherever you are!

Last month I was fortunate enough to attend the CCWI conference (Computing & Control for the Water Industry Conference) in Sheffield on September 5th to 7th 2017.

Focusing mainly on water systems modelling and control, this conference aimed to bring together leading experts, researchers and practitioners from academia and industry to present and disseminate recent advances in research and industry. I attended some fantastic presentations that showed very clearly how “blue sky thinking “can generate ideas, models and algorithms and control philosophies that can have a real impact on the water industry.

The main aims of the conference were to facilitate continued co-operation of academic institutions and industry, to examine the current state-of-the-art in computing and control techniques applicable to the water industry and to provide a forum for discussions and the dissemination of ideas on applied computing and control for the water industry.

The first two aims were met magnificently, the depth and quality of the work being presented was fabulous.

The biggest disappointment was the poor attendance from water companies. Of the over 110 delegates, only three people from UK water companies attended and two of those were authors of papers!

This picture is repeated at most water exhibitions and conferences and although I fully appreciate the work load of people in the water industry, I believe there is real value to be gained in the interactions between academia and industry. Asking tough “real world” questions in the post presentation forums will squeeze new ideas out of academia, exposure to pure research will spark new applied ideas in industry.

With my “Dr Chlorine” head on, I focused on papers dealing with water quality monitoring, modelling and control.  Some ideas that came up in the discussions after the presentation included:

  • Using the distribution network as a feedback control for the water treatment works
  • Using mobile water quality monitors inside pipes to track contamination events
  • How to determine the optimum number and locations for water quality sensors
  • Using machine learning to deliver predictive real-time water quality alerts.

The other striking thing was that there are some great models and algorithms already out there that could be developed, refined and improved if there was easier access to data. Water companies traditionally guard their data ferociously. If academia had access to the tera bytes of water quality, flow, pressure and customer contacts data that is sitting in silos on servers, I am convinced that everyone would win.

So what is the conundrum? This clearly is how we can get water companies to attend these events.

All parts of the industry have a role to play.  Suppliers and sponsors need to start trying harder to get their water company customers to engage; the water industry could give the world of academia better access to real data and real assets; the advertising industry could look to minimise the costs of publicising purely academic events. Working together and encouraging better engagement and better knowledge transfer benefits the whole water sector.

Food for thought.


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