by Sam Lowry, Simerics
November 20, 2015

The 25th World Water Week (WWW) was held in Stockholm, Sweden, earlier this year with a designated focus on “Water for Development.” The underlying thematic scope of the conference was developing policy to provide water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for the nearly 2 billion people who still lack access to safe water and approximately 2.5 billion lacking access to basic water sanitation.[1] .

Toward this end, an impressive array of heads-of-state, financiers, social scientist, academicians and policy makers attended the event. Located in the heart of Stockholm, World Water Week hosted more than 150 attendees and more than 160 events and 8 workshops on financing, sustainable development goals (SDGs), integrity, gender issues, climate change, energy, sanitation, food, conflict resolution and water management, with tittles ranging from “Building an Ecosystem to Provide WASH Solutions through Inclusive Business” to “Meeting the Fundamental Need for WASH in Health Facilities.”

For an engineer attending the conference, exhibits and sessions on pump technology were limited. Ed McCormick, president of the Board of Trustees for Water Environment Federation and host of the recent 2015 Water Environment Federation Technical conference (WEFTEC) in Chicago confirmed that the emphasis of the WWW conference was more on policy and social issues than technology. Grundfos and Xylem, major supporters of the conference, had no pump exhibits on-site. A search on the conference website using the word “pump” returns only a few results. Despite the lack of emphasis, pump-related technology could be found, either implicit in the discussions or ferreted out amongst the approximately 60 exhibit booths spread around the venue.

WellDone International's cellular-connected MoMo (Mobile Monitor) flow meter installed on a rope pump in Ifakara, Tanzania.

Rasoul D. Mikkelsen, director of global partnerships at Grundfos LIFELINK A/S, explained that Grundfos’ focus at the conference was not to sell or promote any pumps solutions but to promote commercialization as a solution for providing sustainable water to underserved rural communities. In contrast to one-time donations of equipment, a viable commercial system would ensure that equipment could be maintained and scaled-up without having to rely on the increased generosity of various donors and non-government organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits. Mikkelsen said that the Grundfos approach would encourage multi-stakeholder partnerships and merge “commercial business with social purpose.”

With more than 750 people worldwide lacking access to clean drinking water, the potential commercial return is significant, even with a small profit margin. Paying for clean water might be no more costly than what is already typically paid by individuals for cellphone service. Cellphones themselves have evolved into an enabling technology for providing clean water in remote areas. Purchased through phone networks, prepaid water credits might be a means to pay for water services and support commercialization.

Cellphone networks are already being used to monitor pump performance. The SSEE Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, won the Best Poster Award at the conference for a poster showcasing a program that places accelerometers in the handles of manual pumps and transmits these data to a centralized location. The health and productivity of the pump is determined by analyzing the acceleration profile, enabling detection and prediction of failure. This information is coupled with maintenance programs similar to an extended warranty to greatly reduce repair times while sharing the cost of repairs among the participants. In a similar effort, WellDone International, an emerging high-tech company based in San Francisco, has developed inexpensive turbines with integrated transmitters that can be mounted on the pump and provide flow rate data via cellphone networks to monitor their performance.

Remote monitoring such as that provided by SSEE and WellDone opens the potential for collecting a wide range of useful data. From an engineering perspective, pump data could be used to determine which pumps and systems work best. Several critical questions must be considered:

• What is the maximum depth at which a given pump can operate? The answer to this question is critical for pump operations in arid regions with low water tables.
• What flow rates can be delivered?
• How much energy (e.g. hand strength) is required to operate a pump, and can it be linked off-grid to local energy sources such as solar-panels, diesel or wind power?
• What are the original equipment costs and how much does it cost to install a new system, including transportation and site preparation (e.g. drilling)?
• What is the sensitivity of the system to improper installation and geological variations? Does the hole need to be straight, or will the pump still operate with some curvature to the shaft?
• What is the availability of personnel trained and capable of installing the system?
• How long will a given pump operate under demanding conditions before it needs repair?
• What is the best way to monitor systems in remote location?
• What is the availability of repair parts, and how can the cost of repairs be kept within the budgetary reach of small communities?
• What is the best way to train and retain capable repairmen?
• What technologies are available to meter usage and collect payments if the system is commercial?

These questions—and no doubt many more—must be addressed if safe drinking water is to be provided to the 2 billion people who are still lacking.

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