Solving Water Affordability

Solving Water Affordability

"Advanced analytics and software solutions can help water operators solve water and meet the needs of low-income customers both affordably and sustainably.” 

Dr. Christine Boyle is Director, Segment Area Leader, Metering Insights for Xylem and Founder of Valor Water Analytics. In 2019, she was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Women in Water, according to consulting firm Mazars. Here she talks about what drew her to water innovation.

Why work in water? The simple answer is to make a difference – where it matters most!

I grew up alongside beautiful Lake Washington in Seattle, so abundant water was always around us. It was only when I went to Northern China during my college years that I encountered an arid landscape. Experiencing the impact of water scarcity first-hand deeply impacted me.

That juxtaposition stayed with me and helped direct my eventual career. It shaped something intrinsic: I’ve always been driven by human needs and rights. I believe water is the most fundamental human right, and I’ve carried that conviction with me since I was a young girl. Everyone deserves water.

But before starting my personal water odyssey, I worked in logistics for a Chinese e-commerce firm. Back in the nineties, my job was all about optimizing the distribution of comic books, books, music and so on. I really enjoyed the work and got to learn fluent Mandarin! – but wanted to apply my skills to something more connected to sustainability and helping society.

So, I looked around to find somewhere where I could combine my quantitative skills with helping people and landed on water.

From 2005, I trained as a water economist at University North Carolina, Chapel Hill. While doing my doctoral work I analyzed a very large set of water utility data and developed a set of algorithms and outputs that ended up being very useful to water utilities. So, it was natural to move into that field on graduation.

I started my own company called Valor Water Analytics in 2013. We created Hidden Revenue Locator: cloud-based software that uses AI to help utilities find hidden revenue by identifying inaccuracies in water meters and customer data handling.

Joining Xylem to help drive digital transformation

The solution generated a lot of attention. We became the only water company to be accepted by a leading tech incubator - Imagine H2O - and I had to learn how to do TV interviews! But what I really wanted was to extend our reach. In 2018, we were fortunate to join Xylem. With Xylem’s commitment to digital innovation, the company was the perfect home for Valor and Hidden Revenue Locator.

As part of Xylem I am now focused on helping utilities build financial resilience for Xylem and helping lead our company’s efforts to advance water affordability and equity. It’s been a great move, because I’m able to achieve my original goal: to make a difference, at scale.

Everywhere you look today, water operators are struggling to manage their water resources. Everyone is looking for new ways and ideas to make water more efficient and affordable. By enabling water operators to realize missing revenue, Hidden Revenue Locator is helping them strengthen their financial foundation.

For example, Clayton County Water Authority (CCWA) in Georgia was finding it difficult to quantify the effects of apparent loss on their bottom line. (Apparent loss is defined as water that is consumed, but not properly measured, accounted for or paid for.)

By implementing Xylem’s Hidden Revenue Locator advanced analytics to continuously identify problem meters in their system, they solved the issue and optimized their meter replacement program. CCWA has identified over $1 million in annual lost revenue and avoided unnecessary investment in fully functional meters.

I want to apply our Hidden Revenue Locator to every water meter in the world – to help more utilities save money for their communities and free up capital they can use to invest in infrastructure upgrades or manage the cost of water for consumers.

The Power of Digital Decision Tools

By leveraging this solution and Xylem’s other Decision Intelligence tools, we can help more utilities and water operators optimize their operations and create new efficiencies. We can also apply innovative business models, like performance-based contracts and risk-sharing models, to further reduce costs and risk for any water utility buying new technologies. Advanced analytics and software solutions can help water operators meet the needs of low-income customers – affordably and sustainably.

New technology provides solutions that simply weren’t around 10 years ago – everything from lower energy membrane technology to more energy efficient pumping and smarter pumps that save on energy costs, to AMI technology, which helps utilities measure water demand better.

Put simply: the problems are getting worse but the technologies are getting better and cheaper, so I’m an avowed optimist. And the momentum is growing. We’re seeing more water operators invest in digital solutions to manage and control stormwater, and better metering communications, to optimize water management and create new cost savings. Pioneers encourage others, so a groundswell is turning into a wave.

What I love about what we do at Xylem is you get to see the outcomes of your work through more affordable water, cleaner rivers and water bodies, programs to help disadvantaged communities, water initiatives communicated in native languages, and so on. If we can overcome short-term thinking – at all levels – we can do so much more. Long-term capital and infrastructure planning is the key to sustainable water supplies.

With digital solutions, we can – and are – transforming water. In doing so, we’re making water more affordable and sustainable for all.

by Dr. Christine Boyle