MP for Cambridge-North Dumfries, Gary Goodyear, said that in his time as federal economic minister, he met with many communities that wanted to “set up a centre for water excellence.” Since there can be only one world leader, however, government, businesses and universities in southern Ontario formed the Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC).
“The goal is to develop the technologies, test them, have a place where they can be demonstrated to potential buyers, (and) build those products here in southern Ontario and literally sell them to the world,” said Goodyear.
More than 70 different companies, including IBM, and eight universities have joined the initiative to try to develop better water practices and efficiency through technological innovation.
IBM alone has pledged $20 million worth of technology. Donald Aldridge, general manager of research and life sciences at IBM Canada, said that while “the only thing that we put a value on, for the purposes of the Fed dev program, was the hardware and software,” it’s also providing a lot of bodies from the Jeopardy Watson team.
This is because the backbone of the project will use the same technology as the Watson program, IBM’s POWER7.
Aldridge said IBM pulled together different environmental technology initiatives and talent to form its Big Green Innovations group and “over time, realized that if you had to prioritize, that water was probably one of the most important topics facing the globe.”
The SOWC came at the right time for IBM, Aldridge said, as he had been looking for “a group of universities to get together (with IBM) and for us to be able to concentrate on one large project.”
“Goodyear won’t call IBM’s contribution to the project the “brains: powering it “because everybody involved is the brains behind it but it is the spinal cord that will connect the different areas throughout the geography of this type of a project.”
As an example of an efficiency that SOWC might address, Aldridge offered pipes. “I know that sounds incredibly boring but anywhere between 20 and 50 per cent of the water that we pump into our water system leaks out and people don’t know how or why or where. That can cause major problems and it also costs an awful lot of money,” Aldridge said.
He said that SOWC could look into building “a smarter pipe or smarter grid; much as you would with electricity, you could do the same thing with water. Given that you’re measuring the pressure at five or six different locations, could you, using analytics, determine how much water loss is happening and where?”
Goodyear said it’s innovations like these that would lead to his main goal for the project, “to be, in a few short years, the place where the world buys its water management technology.”
Aldridge actually said that southern Ontario is the perfect place to develop this sort of technology as its economic growth is limited by water. “It’s used, obviously, for agriculture to feed people. It’s used for industrial uses. Once you build up industry, you need people to move for jobs but if you haven’t got enough water to build the residential neighbourhoods then you have this catch 22. What we need to be able to do is squeeze, no pun intended, every last drop of value out of the existing water and that’s what this project has the potential to do.”
That, and tap into what Goodyear calls a huge (again, pun unintended) untapped market. “Obviously we want safe drinking water for our communities and our families and we want to share that technology with the rest of the world, but that is a $400 billion market and southern Ontario will be the place the world goes for that technology. That’s our goal,” Goodyear said.