Never let a good crisis go to waste.
Winston Churchill is credited with saying this towards the end of World War Two as he met with Stalin and Roosevelt, referring to the opportunities that present themselves when the status quo has been shattered.
Evidently, 2020’s pandemic has presented such a crisis, and such a set of opportunities going into 2021, particularly for the water sector. This is a time not just to supercharge trends that were already ongoing, such as digital transformation, but to also pursue those truly disruptive changes that can lead to more efficient, resilient, sustainable, affordable water and wastewater solutions and services.
What happens in 2021 probably means a lot more than we can comprehend right now—either we go back to doing things the previous way, or we put the world on a different path. Bluefield has many items on its wish list for 2021, though the water sector tends to change in 5- to 10-year increments more than year-to-year.
But there are several issues that we would like to see, and expect could happen in 2021 worth calling out:
- Utilities take a ‘build back better’ approach to weathering the economic downturn. Our review of 37 U.S. utilities indicated uneven responses to the pandemic with downward pressure on revenues and cuts to capital investment. This is also a time to look for efficiencies in crucial areas such as work order management and non-revenue water reduction
- Big Data players become part of the solution, enter the water sector in earnest with workable off-the-shelf solutions for municipal operators. Global data center water usage is projected to increase by 13% to 221 million gallons in 2021. Players like Google, Amazon, and Apple have a huge role to play not only in reducing their water footprint but also in leveraging their AI capabilities to optimize water management.
- Veolia-Suez merger plans, whether they materialize or not, support positive market development. Veolia’s bid for control of Suez, after the purchase of Engie’s stake, has turned into an acrimonious, politically charged battle that will reshape the global water sector. This could lead to opportunities for smaller firms to exploit the merged entity’s integration struggles, while at the same time force a combined firm to optimize operations around the globe.
- Regulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) compounds gains national, and global traction. Early this year we published a focus report highlighting the massive challenges to remediate PFAs contamination in 49 US states. To date, only 12 states have put forth numerical limits for PFAS levels, with three additional states currently in the process of promulgating maximum contaminant levels (MCLs).