"Digitalisation, which had already completely changed things in the telecoms sector, is now conquering the energy sector and will radically change the energy landscape even more in the coming years.  But do you know what other sector is in urgent need of this change? The drinking water sector.", saysWalter Eevers, Director of R&D at VITO.

Gone are the days when I received a paper bill from my telecoms company... that charged me, by the minute and per phone call, for how much I had called. Those days are over. I can now choose, via an online platform, one of dozens of formulas in which the number of minutes called is even irrelevant. What's more, through my mobile platform, I now have access to all kinds of commercial offers at the bol.coms of this world, which in turn earn me extra calling minutes.

Some twenty years later, I see the same change happening at my electricity supplier. As a consumer, I no longer pay only for the electrons flowing from my wall socket. Unlike then, I'm also producing my own energy via my solar panels and there are more and more consumables that I can comfortably monitor/control to make my life more enjoyable. Several times a year, I receive a call from my energy supplier who wants to provide me with extra services, ranging from insurance for minor repairs to giving me complete peace of mind with my heating equipment.

Digitalisation of the energy sector continues

Digitalisation, which had already completely changed things in the telecoms sector, is now conquering the energy sector and will radically change the energy landscape even more in the coming years. Innovative companies are already hard at work developing services and products that will cause a furore here. We also recognise this in the money flows to these kinds of companies and the large number of green funds that are fully committed to this energy transition towards more sustainable and greener energy. Investors will also want to enjoy future growth. The global component in this is certainly no stranger to that either. The energy transition is happening everywhere, at the same time, and is therefore at scale. This is precisely what makes this market so interesting for developing new opportunities further and offering them globally. It is, therefore, certainly not unusual for big dinosaurs from the oil world to see their future in this and to actively buy up innovators to ensure their own future. 

Towards digitalisation of the water sector

But do you know what other sector is in urgent need of this change? The drinking water sector. In every home, we can still find an old-fashioned copper tap somewhere, with an under-dusted analogue counter. Not so long ago, by the way, this was still read annually by a man in a suit with a cap. There is no doubt that the change is also a business opportunity in the drinking water sector. Climate change is already causing problems in the water supply. It goes without saying that the tap will not release a single drop in some places in Flanders this year. But while the tap remains dry, we do find a growing and already remarkably large item for wastewater treatment on our water bill. And in the meantime, we just let drinking water run away en masse, while paying more and more for it.

Take the lack of digitalisation in the drinking water sector, combined with an absence of services and products that give comfort to the consumer – and in the future also the producer – and add the rising costs of water, and you have the next disruption, this time in the water sector. The fact that the scale of the water market will have to match that of the energy sector in the future seems self-evident: water shortages occur almost everywhere in the world. That means scalability will not be an issue in this case either.

Let's learn from the transformation of the electricity sector

If we look at the investment funds that specifically focus on water, we see that they are doing well all over the world. At present, they are admittedly still much smaller than their counterparts in the energy sector.  This is the ticket for every entrepreneur or innovator: early innovation and tapping into markets where the competition has not yet jumped on board en masse.  Previous markets that went into disruption earlier are an important learning experience in this regard. Innovators and governments entering the water sector can learn a lot from the mistakes made during the transformation of the electricity sector. Not only in terms of communication, but also in marketing, the energy sector can serve as a tough but important teacher – not only for innovators, but also for policy. It is therefore highly recommended that today's water innovators bring “electricians” on board now to help pave the success of their future.

They should not do this alone. Fortunately, the whole water issue has recently focused the minds of a great many actors. In H2050 for example, the transition arena for water, a number of fresh thinkers from all sections of society are brainstorming around a systemic long-term vision for water in Flanders and in the world.

I am already putting some of my money on the future players in the water sector. A question of spreading my advance climate investments well.

Cartoon Kamagurka voor Vlakwa over water
Directeur Onderzoek en Ontwikkeling