How one company is addressing the drought crisis through mobile tech

Every year, Americans waste a trillion gallons of water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency— and the way we do it is pretty embarrassing. Most of it is through leaky faucets in our kitchens and bathrooms, our faulty sprinkler systems, or our malfunctioning toilets.

Just to put that into perspective, that’s 40 million swimming pools or 24 billion bathtubs. It’s also 9 percent of the amount of water needed to end the California drought, according to NASA data from 2014.

But perhaps that’s part of the issue. For some reason, many people see water conservation as a very specific problem to certain geographical areas, when in reality, that’s not the case at all.

“It’s not a California problem, not a drought state problem,” said Lisbeth Cabrera Spencer, marketing manager for Smart Utility Systems (SUS), a technology company that is trying to not only help utilities manage technology solutions for water and energy conservation, but also help consumers realize the importance of the drought crisis on a global level.

Earlier this month, the Irvine, California-based company announced its Water and Energy Innovation Center in Santa Clara that they hope will be a hub for energy and water conservation research in Silicon Valley.

The specific details still remain confidential, but the goal of the center is to provide jobs, progressive research and development of technologies for water conservation, and to build long-term relationships in Silicon Valley. Experts in utilities, water conservation will work with technologists and entrepreneurs to develop these types of solutions. And part of the reason the innovation center is important to Garg and the SUS team is because they know utility companies aren’t in the business of marketing. Having this hub for tech and innovation could draw more attention to water and energy conservation and the changing business models of utility companies, and lead to change in the industry.

“The issue of drought has been brought to everyone’s attention, but it’s in a reactive manner,” said Deepak Garg, CEO of SUS. “We need to address the consumer side. Do people really know? We’re taking that for granted.”

Most people usually get a snapshot of the drought — a quick synopsis on the news or soundbite from television. Most of the solutions proposed are difficult to understand, and even more difficult to actually implement. Take desalination for instance. The process is complicated, it may take up to a decade to build the plants, and the impact of them is still not fully known.

Founded in 2009, SUS provides SaaS technology solutions for utility companies, so water conservation can start at the simplest level. Its software allows utilities and water districts to improve their water and energy conservation efforts and their operations by monitoring water usage, leaks, and customer engagement. The main software platform is designed for utility companies. To solve the issue of water leaks, companies are increasing the number of smart meter systems to monitor the hardware.

But the data still needs to be analyzed — and that’s what SUS is trying to do.

“We want to take a 360 degree view to water conservation,” Spencer said. “We’re approaching it through all the stakeholders globally.”

The company offers three main services for utilities and their customers. The first part of the solution is the analytics platform, called Smart Customer Mobile (SCM), which allows utilities to interact with their customers and increase engagement. That’s a huge step, Garg said, because most utility companies are still using pen and paper information and bills. The second part is Smart IQ, a platform for utility providers to use to track and manage their data to optimize operations. The third is Smart Mobile Workforce, (SMW), which is a real-time intelligence platform for utility field workers to use on mobile devices.

According to SUS, the cost of communication to customers for the utility company is $5 a year per person. So with 50,000 users, that’s $250,000 in costs. The company also said the average cost of paying a utilities bill in person is $14. One of the reasons for the high cost is because previously, there was no way to analyze and understand the data. With software systems like SUS, the price can be reduced for both utilities and end consumers.

But part of the battle in energy conservation is convincing consumers to care about their own water conservation, and that requires constant education. SUS will also be launching a new app called Smart H2O, which will allow consumers to not only find out details about their own water use, but also to discover information about the latest government-mandated water use restrictions to help them stay within legal boundaries and avoid fines and penalties, and access water conservation incentives and rebates, then share that information via social media to create buzz around the topics.

That is a difficult challenge, Garg said, and it requires a balance of empowering consumers with the technology they have handy without telling them what to do. But if they continue education for consumers and continue pressuring utilities to move to smarter analytics systems, it will begin to move the needle. It has to happen, he said.

“Water is our infrastructure,” Garg added.” It’s our responsibility.”

This article was written by Lyndsey Gilpin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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