06 October 2010

Water innovation conferences

Today is the beginning of Water Smart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas. It's a $390 conference where "a wide range of professional sessions, workshops and technical tours, and an expansive exhibit hall, will connect attendees with the resources they need in an atmosphere of networking, collaboration and learning."

They have Hunter Lovins and Steve Solomon on the list of keynote speakers, which doesn't include me. That's because they didn't reply to my suggested talk idea:
Title: You're doing it wrong! How Las Vegas can restore its economy and secure its water

Abstract: Las Vegas has experienced the worst real estate bust in the US. It is also desperately short of water. Both of these problems can be traced to water management policies that are neither efficient, nor sustainable. In this talk, I will give some simple idea of how to increase market prices for current and future housing, how to ensure that existing water supplies are adequate for demand and how
politicians, water managers and real estate developers can benefit from this new paradigm in water management. Las Vegas can set an example of how to do it right, instead of the many ways of doing it wrong.
Their loss [seriously... really], but you may want to go if you just missed the Water Innovations Alliance Conference in Chicago. This $500 event is...
...designed to improve awareness and collaboration between large companies, engineering firms, universities, utilities, start-ups, NGOs and governments by educating attendees on new water technologies, innovations and prospects. Whether the developments are in materials, IT, engineering, financing or public policy, the conference will shine a spotlight on all advancements and provide best practices across the spectrum of the water field.
Their list of 35 (!) speakers includes a lot of big names and interesting topics,* so it seems like WIAC would be more interesting than WSIC, which appears to be a trade show for selling hardware.

Here's my question: What good ideas were presented there? I'm not interested in technology, I am interested in "new water innovations" that can be implemented elsewhere. That's because I am trying to overcome the impression that these conferences are just long cocktail hours where the conventional wisdom ("wanna see my water footprint?") is passed around.

Anyone?

* Organizer F. Mark Modzelewski invited me to keynote before he uninvited me. I guess he got enough speakers.

Hattips to PB and TS

3 comments:

David said...

A quick response, and as always, this is one person's opinion. I'd like to here from others who were there too!

Interesting ideas-
-“smart” watersheds (sensor networks and automation dominated the discussion, but these can be platforms for real-time pricing) are coming, but can not be smarter than the people who run/design them
-point-of-use treatment technologies may leap frog OECD-style “big pipe” water supply systems in the developing world
-thoughtful, if narrowly scoped, innovation portfolios exist in private water services sector (Veolia, Suez, Siemens, American Water and their subsidiaries)
-“water risk” is real (especially in supply chains) and being managed by some firms that need to, and chatted-up by others as a (minor) differentiator in their markets
-Veolia’s water impact metrics (hydro/quality stress and carbon impacts) are framed well and will likely occupy that space for a while- water use is not just about water, but it’s about the inputs and impacts of moving it around

Perceived barriers to innovation/better management-
-demographics- top tier talent has not been attracted to water for some time
-no customers- lack of C-level interest and top line (revenue) drivers relegate water to a second or third tier issue even for cost-center managers
-the spread between value and price of water- smothers innovation and is not sustainable
-little sales or business model for innovation- most in the space don’t understand the two bullets above
-US water framework has too many perverse institutional incentives (ie better to have huge, catastrophic problem than to do maintenance; strong statutes/bureaucracies lead to “lock-in” and select for status quo)

My sense-

A good meeting. The audience was engaged and often pushed presenters, sometimes hard. During a “smart water grid” session, for example, the audience was really engaged, and the notion was redrafted as “smart watersheds.” It also has me thinking of how the apparently stark differences between water and electricity (storage, perishibility, interconnectedness in the grid) may less fundamental and more matters of degree—but that’s a topic for a later date.

Very interesting talent, worth learning from. I put faces and names together for a few folks I’d only “met” remotely, and reconnected with others that I had not kept as close to as I should have. I’ve followed this “Alliance” since it was a rough idea, and it’s turned out better than I feared it might. The hallway conversations (sorry David, no cocktails) were great.

It was very hard to find either a consistent water or economic theme—other than “this stuff is getting scarcer, so there has to be money close by.” As long as the Alliance is not satisfied with that, this doesn’t concern me. If this is all they can do, however, the talent level they attract will fall off over time. My sense is that people like this (and readers of this blog) will “Walmart” water by identifying, describing, and managing the value chain (rather than whatever piece in the middle most of us spend most of our time on (irrigation, public supply, private wells, etc.)). There were whiffs of that kind of thinking in Chicago. I will continue to watch this group.

David Zetland said...

@David -- thanks for that excellent feedback. I am happy to see many trends that I am tracking, indeed covering in my book :)

David said...

You are most welcome. And my apologies to everyone for using "Walmart" as a verb.