with 🎙️ Olivier Narbey, Senior Business Development Manager – Water Network Performance at GF Piping Systems
💧 GF Piping System is the leading flow solutions provider across the World.
What we covered:
🍎 How Non-Revenue Water represents 126 billion cubic meters a year and an achievable saving potential of $37 billion a year
🍎 How the Non-Revenue Water (NRW) question is intricate and multi-faceted
🧮 How Water you lose on your network not only represents a direct cost but also an indirect one, as you have to produce new water accordingly
🍏 How innovative solutions like pressure reduction and control on the Water Network can reduce the Water Utilities’ headache when it comes to non-revenue water
🍎 How from a certain point, you shall stop repairing and start rebuilding or replacing your network
🍎 How many problems come from parts of the networks that were supposed to be disconnected (but were not)
🧮 How managing a network is a long ball game, where you’re juggling with limited budgets and compensating with time and delays
🍎 How low renewal rates mean expected lifetimes for your piping network which are way above what’s reasonably feasible
🍏 How cutting your network into District Meter Areas (DMAs) and District Meter Zones (DMZs) helps you identifying leaks
🔍 How managing a network has much to do with forensics, and how you shall exploit every occasion to see the “body”
🍏 The three ways to regulate pressure on a water network
🍏 Water management in Algeria, Mozambique, or Vatican, Adoption curve for pressure regulating devices, Teaming up with an Oxford University spin-off… and much more!
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
Teaser: Non-Revenue Water
➡️ Send your warm regards to Olivier on LinkedIn
🔗 Check GF Piping Systems’ website
is on Linkedin ➡️
Infographic: Non-Revenue WaterAlex-Loucopoulos-Sciens-Water-Infographic
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Antoine Walter: Hi, Olivier, welcome to the show.
Olivier Narbey: Hi Antoine. Thanks for inviting me.
Antoine Walter: Well, I’m very happy because it’s not every day that have another French guy on the microphone. So I’m not going to make my special postcard of where we are, because again, we’re in the same room, so I know where you are, but you come from a very specific place of France specific to me because it’s the other end of France compared to where I live.
So can you send me. An interesting postcard from Nantes?
A postcard from… Nantes
Olivier Narbey: oh, okay. Well that’s where I live with. My family not is a very interesting city, very lively, full of culture, full of young people’s students. But it’s also a city with a history was once the capital of Brittany. So please consider not part of Brittany in France.
It’s not administratively the case, but it is part of Brittany. So it’s a city that is going through a lot of. Changes reconstruction. It was a greatly destroyed during world war II, you know, bombed and no, it’s trying to find a new pace, transforming industrial areas where, which are very close or into the city center, into new urban areas, new type of infrastructure.
So that’s quite interesting to see evolving, I would say has the proximity to the sea as well to the ocean, the Atlantic ocean. So it gets very popular in the summer.
Antoine Walter: You don’t have the Rhine river. So still I win.
Olivier Narbey: Yeah, it doesn’t flow that we have the Loire river, but it’s nowhere as nice as the Rhine I have to say,
Introducing: Olivier Narbey
Antoine Walter: well, talking of French references.
You’ve been working for the three French majors when it comes to water treatment. Does that make you a pure product of the French water school? I saw you reacting to treatment because water in general, not treatment.
Olivier Narbey: Well, yeah. I had graduated as an hydraulic engineer hydraulic and environment engineer from Strasburg quite some time ago, more than 20 years ago.
And I worked for the three major companies. Saur, Veolia and Suez, it’s, they’re all different companies I’m not so sure I’m a pure product of that industry, French industry, because I spent most of my career abroad. So I think I certainly learned a lot in each of those companies, but I also was exposed to very different things in different setup, in different countries.
Antoine Walter: That is actually very interesting because usually you’re French. You graduated from a French school in the country where you have all the water majors. It’s not everyday that you see people that have such an international exposure that like, like you had and in places, which are, I don’t want to sound strange with that word, but which are not the conventional places.
Working abroad in the Water Industry
So how did you end up in which country did you work in? How did you end up in those countries?
Olivier Narbey: Yeah, the reason I work in the water industry being very transparent and, you know, almost naive is I wanted a job that gives me opportunity to travel and opportunity to discover different things. So, you know, when it was time to pick a career, I just looked at, you know, what are the French major company doings?
I saw a big strength in the water industry with those companies. And I said, okay, let’s try to work in that industry and be exposed to this international activities. You know, so that was kind of a key criteria. And I would think a lot of people who have worked in the French water industry or know working on the international level, I’ve been exposed to international jobs international.
Antoine Walter: Yes, but Australia, the U S the UK, maybe more naturally than the places where you were.
Olivier Narbey: Yeah. Well, I spend. Quite a big part of my time of international time in Africa, I’ve worked almost 10 years in, uh, in Algeria several years in Mozambique in Gabon. And those were of the long assignments that I had.
Managing Water Networks in Africa and Beyond
And I wasn’t, you know, really when I, you know, mentioned my early career plan, I wasn’t really thinking of Africa, to be honest, I was more looking towards Brazil, you know, exotic places in a different way probably. But I think I, I ended up finding in those countries some you know, very nice ingredients of a work life balance, interesting jobs, great people, motivating people, commitment, which you’re doing.
And yeah, I wouldn’t be too emphatic, but Yeah. Some sort of meaning in what, in, in what you do. So you make career choices kind of by default at the beginning, and then you open up your perspective and you pick things in a different way, but you know, your first attempts at a career that really okay.
Let’s try this. Let’s try Mozambique for instance. Yeah.
Antoine Walter: Would you say that the time you’ve spent in Africa dealing with water topics was by any means from another planet in other word competitors at what you saw and lived in Europe? Or is it not as exotic as it sounds?
Olivier Narbey: I think it’s one thing about Africa.
At the same times, very different, and it has this level of complexity, but at this on the other end, very transparent. And you know, when you’re faced with, let’s talk about, you know, jobs and issues in, in the workplace, when you see things happening in the workplace or on projects, you know, it’s like looking at the same problems from a European perspective, but we’ve a looking glass, you know, so you can actually see much clearer issues, situation, because people are more genuine, I think more transparent.
How different is Africa, when it comes to Water?
And you know, what is at stake is more obvious to you. So it’s much less complex to understand what is happening and you do get a lot of key learnings out of that. And you have also more impact because you can act directly on those symptoms.
Antoine Walter: It’s interesting because usually, you know, and me, the first said you were working in Africa, we speak about Africa.
Like it’s one thing, and that’s something I’ve been discussing on that microphone with Walid Khoury, how even the countries still don’t reflect exactly what is happening in Africa. So, you have a lot more to look at. And when you look at the water-related topic, if you look at water best scenes or things like that, it’s again, another level of complexity and somewhat it’s the own scratched parts of the word, at least from a Western country perspective.
Did you share that?
Olivier Narbey: Yeah. Yeah, the it’s difficult to compare one country to another, you know, even looking at north Africa, comparing Algeria and Morocco. They’re very different countries. Very different culture. Yes. They do share part of the language or some dialects at least. But the culture is different.
10 Years as a Water Professional in Algeria
People are different and it’s many, it goes, yeah. I don’t know how long, you know, and it also part of the recent is history. There are very different cultures and countries. So, you know, when you have spent talking about, Algera spent nine, 10 years there, I learned a few things. Some things were very obvious in the beginning, you know how to behave with people and you know, how you can work together in such an a, I would say a different environment, but it was also a very transparent and very friendly environment.
I had a couple of experience, short, shorter assignments in Morocco and things were simpler, but only on the surface, things are actually much more complex for me in Morocco to understand, I’m not saying one is better than the other. I just think, you know, each word, each country has its own ways. And you need to understand, depending on what you hear for, you know, if you’re short term long term, what type of projects you’re working on,
Antoine Walter: we’ve mentioned that you worked in Africa and in various countries in Africa, but we didn’t say what you did there.
So what was your duty?
Olivier Narbey: So, yeah, as I said, I’m originally a water engineer having my first job over there. We’re kind of, working on, let’s say water supply project, most of the time and have different configurations of very often funded by international donors or funding like a world bank, or I think now they call the international development bank.
Working as a Water Engineer on ODA Projects
So it was about really managing a water utility or water company to upgrade, increase the level of. And, you know, in some countries you start with a level of service that is 2, 3, 4 hours of water supply every other day. And you need to bring that up to a constant water supply, or at least a daily water supply during the day.
So, I mean, the key challenge that has been asked from international players coming into countries like that is okay, you need to deliver a better service. You need to make that service sustainable from an economic perspective. And you know, part of that, you have to create new infrastructure. You have to train the people, you have to involve them to make them autonomous from any international support.
So it becomes quite a complex equation to solve. And generally those are very long-term projects, highly rewarding, but highly challenging.
Antoine Walter: And after that decade in Algeria, you went back to Europe and did that turns you move to the industry. What brought you to the manufacturing industry?
Olivier Narbey: Just going back one sec for around Algeria, that was highly rewarding, highly satisfying project.
Very interesting. A lot of things were done and achieved with the team, with the people. I mean, from many aspects, from the infrastructure perspective, from the training of the people, the, you know, how we could really collaborate with the Algerian team and, and support them in developing skills and organization.
Returning to France, then Switzerland
So that was, you know, great and quite unique from that perspective. When I came back to Europe and to France, I was in the more, I would say, operational job and very calibrated job into customer services within within space. And that didn’t quite have the same taste as you know, working on such big projects, like the water supply of Algiers and that, yeah, didn’t feel the same.
I didn’t have the same alignment of motivations. And so yeah, I was kind of starting to think of a new challenge of a different things. And then I got approached by Georg Fischer completely out of nowhere. I have to say to work for a manufacturer of piping systems or GF piping systems at the time was called a market segment manager, which is a really strategic role to develop the business of GF piping systems into water distribution systems.
Antoine Walter: And that led to your position today.
Olivier Narbey: Yes today. I am a business developer within GF piping system, focusing on a water network performance. So basically how do we work with our clients to have better tools and more efficiency? One of the key criteria being the non-revenue water or the water losses on the system, but this is also linked to water quality.
This is also linked to constancy of supply. A lot of the countries where we are operating people, don’t have constant water supply. They have to do with 10 hours of water supply per day, 12 hours, sometimes less than that. And we, you know, we have ways to optimize this. We have ways to improve that still linked to non-revenue water, but that’s, I think a first nut to crack the constancy of support.
Deep Dive: Non-Revenue Water
Antoine Walter: Well, we come back to that, I guess, in the discussion, but generally speaking on non-revenue water, which is going to be our deep dive for today, I was discussing on that microphone with David Lloyd Owen. And he wrote in his global water funding book, he was looking at various studies, which are evaluating worldwide, this weight of non-revenue water.
He was aggregating the data. And I think he, he put together that, that number of the 125 billion cubic meters per year, which are just leaked in various systems that we have in the world. But he is making a distinction there between the leaks, which are endemic because you’re never going to have 100% efficiency and the low hanging fruits.
Quite simply, and I’m using brackets here. I mean, quite simply solve. And he was saying, if you just add rest a part, which we can solve by various means that’s about $37 billion per year in savings. And all these tears is in the book is that global? What a funding, there’s three ways to fund the close the gap.
The first is to get more money, which is not happening. The second is to increase the water tariff, which is not happening. And the third is to reduce how much it costs to operate a water system. And he’s saying those 37 billions, you could save with getting the number of new water are the low hanging fruit.
Is addressing Non-Revenue Water a Low Hanging Fruit?
Olivier Narbey: This sounds like a very nice explanation. I really don’t know where to start because you just gave a bunch of interesting things and some are very debatable. Which ones, okay. Let, let’s start with what we can agree on with those statements. First, there are huge amount of water that are lost every year and those numbers they’re quite accurate.
I think the latest I had in mind was 126 trillion cubic meter of water loss per year. So I think that’s quite close to what you were saying and. Yes, that is worth a lot of money and how you characterize that amount. It really depends some countries, you know, when they have water scarcity, they’re not trying to fix leaks.
They don’t have time to fix leak. For some reason they just go for new infrastructure. And I think over the past 30, 40 years, this is what you see most of the time that especially large municipalities, they go for more water resources. And as long as they have the cash to pay for those extra infrastructure.
So a desalination plant, a new plant, a new dam reservoirs, and then you, you increase that. What is at stake in terms of money and financing is actually I think much more than 40 billion. So it’s it’s absolutely huge because you can actually waste which not exactly waste, but you have to commit to huge investment to satisfy the constancy of supply.
There is much more at stake than “just” non-revenue Water
Plus. Add the urbanization wave that is going on in the large municipalities add climate change on top of that. The water resources that you’re having today, like coastal aquifers, you know, they get damaged by the rise of salinity and you can’t use them anymore. So, you know, all of the sudden from you know, over the course of 10 years, you just lose 20, 30% of your water resources, you know, take the city of Algiers.
For instance, there’s a saline intrusion, partly due to over use of the aquifer, but also linked to climate change. And, you know, basically you just gonna destroy potable water resource out of that. So the economic impact is absolutely.
Antoine Walter: There’s much more than just a water. There’s all the surroundings
Olivier Narbey: which you have to do.
Yeah. And you think that you’re for water, you’re in competition with agriculture and you know, if you have a growth of population, yes. They need water, but they also need activities, food industry. So this all goes together. So, you know, I would first position, you know, water infrastructure. We could have the same discussion around sewage and sewage treatment obviously, but it’s not a choice of let’s.
Should we finance it? Should we not finance it? I mean, we should all. Everywhere. We should have a big in-depth look at, you know, what’s going to happen with water resources and you know, what should be the plan for the next 30 years? Because over all the changes we’ve had because of migration, because of climate change and, you know, just pretending out of the blue that we can have a low-hanging fruit with leakage.
I think it’s a bit outdated.
The financial equation of Non-Revenue Water
Antoine Walter: Well, I’m not making a service to David Lloyd Owen by citing him that way, probably because he’s also saying a bit what you’re saying here, which is that there’s this SDG six, which is what’s supposed to happen towards 2030. And what he’s saying is that at best by 2030, what we will have is maybe a plan, meaning that we still don’t do it, but at least we have a plan.
So is also seeing what he was saying, which is let’s first start by, by having a plan. But when you say should, what a here in between the lines is that it’s still in the map.
Olivier Narbey: Well, no, I mean, of course there’s a financial equation to this and it’s not easy and okay. Yes, you can always own coastal region.
You can always go for a desalination plant, but we all know they’re quite expensive to build and to run. And yes, there have been some dramatic improvements in efficiency and cost, but those are still very costly infrastructure to run. And I would say they’re also, short-lived compared to other type of infrastructure.
If you can operate an aquifer, sorry, it sounds a bit weird, but uh, in a sustainable way, this is something you will have for, you know, decades, generations to go.
Antoine Walter: So, what you’re saying is that it’s not only non-revenue water, that the name is a bit misleading. It’s also water. You wouldn’t have to produce if you had higher efficiency.
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Dealing with non-Revenue Water in Algeria
Olivier Narbey: Exactly. I mean, okay. I think Algeria is a good example of the stress. The big cities are under 10 years ago or more. Yeah. 12 years ago, they decided to go for additional desalination capacity, which they did, which greatly helped them to improve the quality of the service. And I think desalination plant in Algeria there, I think one of the top ecosystem of desalination in the world after Saudi, maybe they are operating this quite successfully, but at the same time, they.
Feel the climate change impact quite harshly on the reservoir, on the water reservoirs. I mean this year is absolutely catastrophic for them. They didn’t have the rainy season in during the spring and they are no working with reservoirs and dams that are lower than 20% of their capacity. And they have to restrict water supply to most part of the country or almost so it’s very challenging time.
But I would say in a normal year, the desalination capacity should be that extra bit that you need from time to run the water supply system. You know, at the moment they are the main source of supply for some of the cities in Nigeria, they have to rely almost 60% on desalination plant for the water supply, which is absolutely something I cannot say it was unpredicted.
Because, you know, there’s always someone out there that said, okay the impact of climate change in north Africa or the Mediterranean region is going to be such and such, but it was hard to believe for people 12 years ago. That would be the case that we’re only seeing desalination as a nice, not nice, but unnecessary add on to the complement to the production.
Managing Non-Revenue Water in Armenia
No, it’s completely change. And this has quite a big impact just to go back on the one thing I disagree. I mean the most shocking word in what you said, and, you know, having worked with people in water, operation and water supply is this low-hanging fruit concept. I know you did that to provoke me. I’m sure it worked.
You did it badly. I worked on contracts and projects. So let’s leave north Africa for a while and go to, other projects. I was working in a, in Armenia. Okay. Middle in between caucuses and Turkey stuck between Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Azerbaidjan, as we’ve heard you know, in the past year, the network, the water losses in their system for the city of Yerevan.
Whereas at the time around 85% water loss is, did people complain about water supply? Not really because they have plenty of water over there next to the caucuses. So, so they have fantastic water, portable water resources, you know, without it. Drink treatment? No, no chemicals, no, nothing, but still their efficiency was just network efficiency was just terrible.
So we know we arrived there. So yeah, super easy to improve a ratio of a 15% efficiency of 18%, a 15%. Sorry. So we’re going to be, you know, in six months, which is going to crush everything and improve the situation. But, you know, we climbed up to 40%, 50% easily in six months. The reality is that the people who were operating the system, they were not total idiots.
When you try to fix leaks, you’re dealing with a legacy
They actually, they were doing their best and trying their best and achieve quite a few things already so that, you know, their starting point was not 15%. There was even lower than that. And it’s not easy to improve a water system. There are many things you need to understand and consider. And I think the key thing you see in systems that are.
Poor performance is the limited knowledge people have of that system. And there can be many reason to that. I would say wars have a terrible impact, you know, when an infrastructure was built and, you know, a war happened, I don’t know, I don’t care. One will last, but you know, when the engineers leave the country or the city with the drawings of the system of the water system, it doesn’t make life easy for the people who are working after that.
So they have to be some kind of pipe archeologist to dig that out and to improve things. The condition of the system itself, you know, when the system was just designed in a way that it would basically corrode in 15 or 20 years, like it was the case in Armenia, it was all a system full of steel pipe – un protected steel pipe.
So. System was leaking. I would think almost every, at every weld or joint and you know, no, no pipe was really a water tight, you know, nothing was watered. I, so yeah, you have thousands and thousands of kilometers of pipe that are leaking. So, okay. The only solution is to replace the pipe and you can also play with different things, but it, and it’s quite challenging.
… and repairing a real-life water network is easier said than done
It’s a huge amount of money that you need and you need to dig out the pies. And when you start playing with excavators all around the city of 1 million inhabitants, in the case of Yerevan, you do get a few issues with the municipality, with the police, with traffic control and things. So, yeah. Yeah, low-hanging fruit.
That really doesn’t resonate with my experience. And I think it’s, no, it doesn’t give an accurate picture of the people working in water supply in general, whether there are international firms local or anything. Nevertheless, there are things that can be done. I mean, we’ve experienced and background and I mean, there are a few mistakes that can be avoided and there are things that bring faster results than others, but yeah, just to make things clear, it comes at a very, with a very high level of commitment and hard work.
And it’s, there’s no such thing as, as low hanging fruit, some things are a bit easier than others and more obvious we’ve experienced, I would say, but no low hanging fruit.
Antoine Walter: Okay. So let me withdraw the low-hanging fruit, sorry for that one, but just, you know, when you’re telling me the network had an efficiency of 15%, it sounds like pretty obvious that the solution is not to fix the leaks, but to replace the net.
Deciding to fix or replace a network, to mitigate non-revenue water
Really from an outsider perspective, do you see a tipping point in the efficiency of network starting where it would make sense to repair and improve and below that tipping point, it would simply be better to be the new infrastructure. Okay.
Olivier Narbey: I will answer your question, but there’s something I want to mention first because that kind of a before thinking of, you know, renewing a water system, I mean the first one.
You know, you learn, you should look at is yeah. The old pipes that were replaced 10 years ago, 20 years ago, can we make sure they’re out of service? You know, the history of a piping system is such that a lot of the issues come from the pipes that you think you w you had disconnected. So everybody believes they are disconnected and not operating anymore, but somehow somewhere, someone left a valve.
Okay. It was closed on the day of the decommissioning, but you thought it was a good idea to keep that valve just in case, you know, you never know, it gives you safety and then. For some reason, one day that valve was open and remain open. So you thought you had decommissioned 30 kilometers of leaking pipeline, but they’re actually still in operation.
Do you speak by experience here? Yes, I do. No. The and that’s the first thing you look at, you know, to decommission old pipe and he’s quite a good strategy because, you know, as long as you have drinking water available or portable water available, and if you have a lack of water supply somewhere, okay.
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Dealing with “ghost pipes”
When, you know you had the pipes, you would just build a new pipe to that area. And so you had five pipes supplying the same. And at some point in time, you think, okay, I don’t really need that hydraulic capacity. Maybe I should decommission one of those pipes to just to see what happens and yeah, most of the time it comes into an improvement.
The other thing, just to give you some funny things and funny ideas is you worked in Nordic countries and, you know, okay, frost is a problem and freezing is an issue. So you have to bury the pipe quite deep and protect them or both just to avoid the pipe freezing, especially when it goes into low flow condition, you know?
No, no dynamic movement. So when you have a very Rocky soil, like, caucuses, for instance, it’s a lot of hard work to burry the pipe very deep, you know, because you have to excavate rocks, you know, basil very hard rocks. Yeah, it’s too much effort to bury the pipe deep. So, okay. You burn with them at the depth you can somewhere between yeah.
50 centimeter. But, you know, in this part of the world, you know, freezing conditions are very harsh between November and April. So yeah. You get frozen pipe very often. No, I never had a frozen pipe in the water supply system of Yerevan. I can’t remember of any, you know, why? Because we always left the washouts open, so water was always flowing.
So the key thing was, you know,
Keeping a holistic eye on non-revenue water
Antoine Walter: they are welcome side effects to the non-revenue water
Olivier Narbey: in this case. Yes. But I mean the, how you handle the washout, how you handle your system, you need to understand how things are, run, know what is worst to have a completely frozen piping system where you’re gonna destroy the supply?.
And won’t be able to get back to it in six months, or do you open the washouts and lose water? You know, so it’s a strategy
Antoine Walter: if I get you right. The very first foundation block is to have a better understanding and a better knowledge about your network. That is really the thing that you need.
Olivier Narbey: Yes. Mean, and every serious water engineer we would go in that direction.
The, you know, you have a limited budget for anything. You do. You have a very limited budget compared to what is at stake. And you know, we’re talking about all this infrastructure and you’re only playing with her little millions here and there, and you need to know where to focus your efforts. So, and yeah, the w the first thing you should invest into, you know, is a proper mapping of your network, better knowledge as much as information as you can gather just to, to see a clear and full picture when I was working in, in, in projects where I didn’t have that, it took me.
Step one: Map your Water Network
Two years, four years to get there. And that was quite painful. And you know, when you’re done with that, you know, you’re kind of completely exhausted, but you think you’ve achieved nothing. But believe me, I’ve been in the other situation where I arrived on the job where this had been done and always fantastic.
I mean, when this is done properly, you can achieve so much more, but you should never forget about that fee. So, but for two or three years, you know, no low hanging fruit, you know, no real quick wins or things. No, no, you, don’t not talking about that. You’re talking about establishing the base of a proper restructuring and operation of your water system and, you know, consulting jobs, consulting engineers are very important in that respect.
And I wouldn’t say they’re neglected, they’re very often part of you know, international donor strategy. But yeah, there are, I think we all, we still underestimate the value of jobs.
Antoine Walter: It’s a topic we somehow covered with Elango Thevar from Neer that list by season two, episode one, I think where we were discussing, how do you have a better bet familial understanding of what’s birds out there, and to go from this situation where, you know, you have things borate to a situation where you have a very, in that case, digital vision of what is laid at which place.
Modeling your network before addressing leaks
So if you want to have a deeper dive to that matter, I’d recommend you that, so that discussion I had, but let’s assume for today that we have done the mapping. So we have that understanding we’ve made that two years investment into better understanding the network. And then coming back to my question, now, we have kind of a precise idea of the current efficiency of the network.
When would you decide to do something and what would you decide to, depending on those results?
Olivier Narbey: You know, what you learned from that first phase is okay. There are different models that you, you can use. And when. The first thing is to look at asset management models where, okay, we have different tools differently, depending on the type of pipe material, depending on you, you estimate the remaining lifetime of a piping system and, you know, you’ll theoretically program your pipe renewable.
It’s a very theoretical exercise because you never get the necessary budget to do it, but still you’re going to prioritize and organize things. And I think it’s it’s the first good use you can make of your initial consulting job on the thing. And then it gives you a prioritization with different criteria of, you know, what you should be doing, but, you know, think this is only a limited budget that you have, know, I think you’ve been confronted with that as well that you have budget to renew 0.2-0.5% of your network every year.
Doing the best you can, with a limited budget to fix and renew your water network
Yes. Some countries do better than, yeah. Because they get extra funding at some point, but this is more or less what water services can afford in most parts of the world. So, you know, it means a lifetime theoretical life. 200 years average for your system. So way too long for any pipe material, any piping system.
So you have to be smart okay. On your asset management, renewal, and, you know, just pick the right places and, you know, just spend the money where you need to spend the money. So once you’ve done that, you haven’t fixed all of the issues you’ve fixed. Let’s say twenty-five percent of your problems and issues.
And then you are faced yet from whatever a result of past installation. No, could be a bite soil condition could be bad. Installation could be too much pressure because the system was initially designed for a different pressure from a different water source. And you didn’t manage that. So yeah you need to understand, okay, what is the constraint and the pressure on my system?
And can I manage it to a little bit better? And that is when you start to think of tools like pressure management, for instance, and you’re gonna organize your system in such a way that you can. Pressurize your system just enough not too low, not too high, but just enough to be able to supply everyone in decent conditions throughout the day.
Actually fixing Non-Revenue Water: Regulating Pressure
So especially you try to minimize pressure at night and increase pressure during the day, but just at the right level. And this is, I mean, quite challenging because it requires your system to be built in a, what we call in district metered area. I mean, you don’t necessarily have to build a meter, but if you place a pressure regulation equipment, you generally put a meter next to it, and you need to sometimes redesign your system depending on the elevation, depending on the mapping that you have to make that you know, let’s say more logical operation of the system from a pressure point of view.
And that is. Let’s say more designing jobs, designing engineering, and let’s say that it’s another 25% of your strategy and things you can do. The other part, I would say is really linked to some issues that happened. And, you know, you can talk about pipe bursts and leaks, and you need to manage that because sometimes you know, a pipe burst is not really the result of an aging pipeline is just, you know, one localized situation where for some reason joined was a damage.
And, you know, if you fix that, your line is good. You know, if you fix that one or it was damaged by external and this, you need to. And I on the, on all those things and you need to monitor your situation and that’s a, really an operational job and to have DMAs in place and monitoring of flows and pressure in the system.
Cut your non-revenue water problem in smaller pieces
These are district metered areas. Yeah. Sorry. We mentioned the district meter. So DMA district meter area, or DMZ DM district meter zone. They may became more common, I think. Yeah. And you use this, let’s say theoretical. Model of your system where, okay, DMA one should have so many cubic meter of order. We have a night flow of 10 or five.
And when you see a start to see a discrepancy in those value, you say, oh, nightfall became 20. I must have an issue there. So I have a response team doing my leakage detection and another response team going for the leak repair. And this part of a of operation is important. The common mistake, but it’s becoming less true is to think this is the only thing you have to do.
I mean, this is the main thing you have to do a bit of pipe renewable and then focus on leak detection and repair. I think that’s a very incomplete strategy. Why. Well, because you never know when a leak appears, if it’s the result of a punctual problem or the result of a Neijing piping system, or, you know, extra excessive pressure on that system.
Pressure management is a compound of asset management
So if you focus solely on corrective maintenance and you sometimes never eliminate the cause of the problem, that could be simply, I’d say with brackets, excessive pressure on your system. So you always need to kind of manage a good asset management plan. Pressure management. And I would say even design of the GMs and design of the different pressures on in your system, we’ve a good maintenance strategy.
The weight of the actions and the importance varies depending, you know, you know, a water system is generally a sum of hundreds of water systems or some part of the same city are going to be very advanced when it comes to pressure management or very with a very fresh piping system, very new. So they don’t have the same priorities and the same issues.
So, I mean, on any scale, you need to manage those skills of operations, asset management, and let’s say network design and pressure.
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Reducing non-revenue water never works in isolation
Antoine Walter: So what’s, you’re saying is that all of these steps really don’t work in isolation. I mean, you need to do your homework and to map everything because that is going to feed into your DMAs.
That’s really good understanding of what does, what then you have to regulate your pressure. You have to go to look for the leaks and on the same hands you have also to have stood your brain on to say, Hey, I see regularly is something happening in that district. And very, probably I have a bigger issue and I need to throw that out.
But if you’re only one piece you’re a bit left out of information, you can not just have a holistic approach.
Olivier Narbey: Yeah. I think you need to experiment all approaches and, you know, test them on your system because you, despite this initial consulting job that you mentioned, you’re trying to understand and map out their system.
You never know a hundred percent of the information. So, you know, to continue this kind of project, whether there are leak detection or pressure management helps you find tune your knowledge of your system, whether you know more about the condition of the pipe, like, oh, I repair that 60 year old ductile iron pipe.
Be curious about macro trends and signals
You should have a look at it. It’s completely corroded. That’s an indication of what. We don’t know yet, but it’s an indication could be normal aging of the prime in a corrosive soul could be some localized electrical influence from whatever tramway line or anything. So, you know, could be many things, but you need to look at whenever you have the chance to physically touch and see your piping system, you need to capitalize that information into your mapping system.
GIS geographical information system. GIS is much broader, sorry. And you know, and continue to learn on your system and, you know, find you and your skills when you come to to water loss management and the asset managers.
Antoine Walter: So water network management is a bit of forensics. You get the body regularly and you have to inspect that body to understand what probably happens around that.
Olivier Narbey: Yeah.
That’s a good metaphor. And to be fair with you at some point in some jobs, I was seeing you remember that TV show house MD. Yeah. Yeah. I was very, you know, pretentious, but I thought sometimes I saw myself as this guy, you know, like try looking at a piping system and, you know, sniffing what was happening, you know, and just throwing out away, you know, some diagnostics and people listening to me and just going out for an edict,
Water Network forensics “à la House MD”
Antoine Walter: Some pills as well!
Olivier Narbey:No, I mean, just going a bit being a bit more down to earth. Yes, it does involve. Probing and testing and trying to see what happens. I mean, there are some general solutions like, okay, let’s renew that part of the system. Let’s not waste our time into leak detection. Things is this is all whatever, as best as seaman system from the sixties, seventies.
And we have other reason to renew that. So let’s do this, but even doing that requires knowledge, okay, where are the pipes? You know, where am I going to disconnect them? How many water connection do I need to renew? What do I need to do? And it requires a lot of investigation and, you know, find knowledge of your system.
Again, if you’re not hundred percent sharp on, you know, what you’re going to do in the construction work and your renewal work, you may leave that. A connection somewhere, a piece of pipe crossing between two networks and then you’re completely wasted all of your effort. So it’s a very difficult job to be done properly.
What was that? What’d you say? Low-hanging fruit. Yep.
The 3 ways to manage pressure on a Water Network
Antoine Walter: So I get that. It’s only one brick in the wall, but can we uncover that brick of pressure regulation? How do you regulate the pressure on the network? You explained the rationale of why we should all do that, but how do you actually do it?
Olivier Narbey: Two ways of, let’s say three ways, you know, going back to the mapping and elevation, you can just position your storage system, your storage tank at the right elevation and design your piping system.
And, you know, freeze time, nothing is going to happen for the next 50 years, no extra construction or extra water usage. And you design your piping system. Everything is frozen and pressure is perfect because you perfectly design your pipeline with the head loss in your piping system. So that’s the first way.
Antoine Walter: So that’s the case of Vatican, may be?
Olivier Narbey: Well, well, that’s an interesting one as well. I never worked there, but I heard of people who work there, but they do have a lot of issues with a typically piping system in the Vatican is an absolute nightmare because they don’t know where the piping systems are. You know, they have absolutely no clue.
Even in Vatican, you’ll rarely find an Ideal Situation
And can you picture an excavator? In the middle of Vatican city, you know, I mean, maybe they had a bit of time, but unfortunately over the COVID crisis, but it’s just absolutely not possible to do anything. So I guess sidetrack you, sorry, but that’s, that’s a very interesting one. That very big challenge.
I would say I would be really interested in knowing how they’re going to, they’re going to tackle this one. So let’s say this very first method, which is, you know, time frozen, you know, perfect conditions, but guess what’s not really. What’s happening in real life. Okay. I guess that’s not a surprise, so, okay.
No, we have to deal with all sorts of events. So you’ve positioned a design and network and you have to deal with extra consumption, population changes extra usage, you know, many different things or, you know, change of resources you know, things happen over the lifetime of a water system. So then you start, okay.
I want to manage pressure on that system. So, you know, I cannot just use the storage tank elevation. I need to use devices to do that. So the one that I will first mention that I’m not going to cover in detail is using pumping stations, you know, just create artificial elevation, and you can regulate that elevation with different devices.
Second option to mitigate non-revenue water: rework your pumping system
So a variable speed drive pump, or simple pump or increased number of pumps can. Adapt the pressure on your piping system. And that’s something that is commonly used to manage pressure probation system. Still it’s a electricity address. Some mechanical equipment requires maintenance, variable speed drive.
I mean, it’s a very well known technique. I mean, it’s and it works. You can see some operators don’t really like it because they don’t like the maintenance and cost and risk associated to it, even though it’s perfectly controlled by the manufacturers. So, you know, what we see that is more common in Europe, in the U S in many countries is pressure regulating valve.
And basically it’s a mechanical device that creates a flow constriction, which target is to reduce pressure or adjust pressure. So there are different functions, but let’s focus on pressure reducing so downstream pressure regulation of the Val and that device. Makes you have a steady pressure, whatever the flow condition into your system.
Third (and probably better) option: add pressure regulating valves on your Water Network
So you, you create kind of a fixed point of pressure in your system that you can control and adjust. And with that pressure, you can, you know, decide, okay, I will cover a DMA district meter area, a part of my system. And by operating the device, you decide the scope and the limit of your GMA.
So there’s a bit of hydraulic calculation, trial and error attached to it. But you just break down the pressure in your system then. I mean, that’s just a simple, single set point thing. You can adjust that pressure and pressure management as it’s normally called. You can actually program that set point of pressure, depend and program it according to the demand, let’s say, I mean, you can program it according to time, but in the end, what matters is the demand of what.
And generally you try to adjust the pressure higher during the day at the peak hour, because that’s where there’s more water demand and you have more head loss on your system or pressure loss on your system. And you try to minimize it at night because that’s where you have less pressure loss and the risk of having excessive pressure on your system.
Ideally, combine several pressure regulation approaches to tackle non-revenue water
So you, you try to adjust that pressure set point. This is also true for pumping station, but this is we’re talking about the volcano to just give what you need on, in terms of pressure on your water system to satisfy everyone and every usage of water. So simple in principle, but as it’s a mechanical device, and we’ve a bit of electronics, if you try to program that set point yeah.
It’s subject to failure maintenance and it has some limitations in, in, in floor, depending on the usage, depending on the flow condition on the system. In our systems are all different. So, you know, how can single design of mechanical device can cope with all those different situations? That’s the, I would say that’s the trick.
That’s the two that is to master.
The state of the art in Water Network Efficiency
Antoine Walter: And when it’s the state of the art today, because that sounds, you know, if you take it piping systems, whatever the, regardless of the material, everything, if you consider this laid down properly and you can decide that it’s going to run at that pressure, then you take your curves.
And probably that one is going to last the 200 years that it’s supposed to last as it has any ways to cover that if you’re replacing 0.5% of your network. So that sounds to me. I’m not saying low hanging fruit. I’m going to say some that like the perfect solution to a complex problem, but with a caveat, which is what you just explained, that it may be failing.
It may be a bit more complex than on the paper. So what is it’s like commonplace today, you do go to your next plumbing shop and you buy a pressure relating valve. Is it really something obvious?
Olivier Narbey: Well, pressure regulating valve is what many people have at home before their, or after their water meter.
So a lot of pressure regulating valve are installed in individual houses and flats. That’s something that is quite common. So this is something that is being done. And, you know, it’s always part of a design. When we talk about pressure regulating valve into distribution system, we’re talking much, slightly bigger vials.
Pressure Regulation Valves as a go-to tool to reduce non-revenue water
Sometimes it’s very big. And you know, you don’t find that near to the next plumber. And when you have to, you think of installing such a device, you always evaluate costs or con constraints and benefits. That’s probably, you know, you know, say you have a system you know, you have a little bit of leakage here and there is, it’s really important to work on pressure management today in okay.
Yes, because I reduced my pressure. I will save a little bit on leakage. You know, if you have less pressure and existing leakage, you know, by reducing pressure, you will reduce your flow of leakage. That’s, you know, abuse for hydraulic guys like us, but it’s kind of, some, for some people, some organization is kind of a nice to have benefit to say, okay, Leakage of 10 before.
No, I have a leakage of eight. Yes. It’s an improvement. But do I really need to go through the discovery of a new type of device and having something mechanical on my system that I have to maintain, I have to deal with, you know, is it really worth it for okay. Yes. A decent result, but something that is more of a nice to have than anything.
So we, we, we maybe get back to the nice to have in this current climate change and water scarcity topic. But but yes, but you know, talking about the design life of a piping system, yes. It’s been designed for a hundred years. If you do a proper polyethylene learn piping system with proper welding, we’ve trained people, you can expect a lifetime of a hundred year and you don’t expose it to very excessive pressure for sure.
The Ideal system doesn’t exist
But. Who on earth can guarantee that system was installed a hundred percent. I’m saying a hundred percent, not 99.9, but a hundred percent by the book within a soil that is, you know, a hundred percent the right trend of allometry of sand and tiny rocks and hundred percent. They won’t be any earthquake happening.
Soil movement, drown movement, freezing conditions, you know, whatever can happen over the lifetime of a piping system. No one can guarantee that for the next hundred year, the condition will be such no one. Okay. So. When you have a way to reduce one of the key parameters to, of stress on the piping system, which is pressure and optimize that and say, okay, by adjusting my pressure and managing my pressure.
Yes. It’s a new system. Yes, it has absolutely no problem today. You know, you are giving yourself a chance of increasing that theoretical lifetime from 100 to, well, I see 200, I mean, who cares the day unit having, but, you know, the reality is that 100 year lifetime system, you might start to experience issues in 20 years in 30 years.
And if you can push that back in time, this is a very nice gift you give to the next generation, not going to be your generation of people operating the system might not be even your sons. You know, children might be the next generation, but if you actually manage properly pressure, you just control one of the key constraint.
You know, what can you do about earthquake? I don’t think much. What can you do about climate change? We think we hope we can do something, but you know, pressure is something you can do something about in design and another very interesting today
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GF Piping Systems partners with Oxford Flow to address non-revenue water
Antoine Walter: to round off our deep dive on the topic today. Can you tell me. What’s the partnership you currently develop with Oxford flow in that area of pressure reducing valves?
Olivier Narbey: Yeah, I mean, to the point we were discussing earlier the, I mean, we’re not changing the technology with what we’re doing today in GF Piping system for pressure management, we have just come up with a design and operation of pressure management that is much easier to grasp for water operators and that gives them much less headache, give them much more trust into their operation and system.
So we as GF piping systems, you know, we’ve been designing and making Val. In a polymer material for decades. I mean, I’ve only been working with this company three years, but you know, if you look at the history and the experience with the company in designing Val cities, it’s huge. And yeah, we very opportunistically.
We came across a UK based startup called Oxford flow and they had a, I mean, there, there are a spin off of Oxford university. I mean, they were working on a jet engine for famous Jet engine company in, in, in the UK you know, operating for Airbus and, and going, and you know, part of that development, they develop regulating equipment, regulating valve, and one application when you kind of sub application of that was a regulating valve for the water industry.
Partnering with an innovative start-up
And they had just managed to design a vowel. That is very simple mechanically, very, I mean, I was very Spanish when I came across that one and this has the same effect on most of the quarter professional. I share it with, it’s just beautifully simple if just a few components and axial flow and we have a.
Very low maintenance requirements made of polymer material, very light. So they had come up with this design and, you know, we just realized that big potential this could have, and the big problems for let’s say it was taking out. Some of the headache operators had, which was a big hurdle for adoption of that technology.
And this is what we see today that people like how simple it is to use. They have added benefit coming in terms of pressure, stability. And regularity of the pressure management and the full spectrum of pressure management and flow and pressure. But you know, what they’re really sold on today is how simple it is to manipulate install commission.
You know, it’s just like very intuitive mechanically and that’s very interesting. So we were, we invested in this startup or Oxford flow and it’s not a startup anymore now. I mean, they are also developing products in other industries like oil and gas. So they’re very creative, very innovative.
And we have a global partnership with them to supply the water distribution market, the municipal water market with this product.
Is Non-Revenue Water reduction FINALLY a low-hanging fruit? 😈
Antoine Walter: So it sounds to me like you a bit closed the loop here because you didn’t like my low hanging fruit, but you’re saying that you’re now proposing a solution, which is working on the acceptation because it’s a bit easier to work with.
So maybe you’re making all of that low hanging fruit.
Olivier Narbey: I think the first thing for technology providers like us is to understand the low hanging fruit is okay. Not as abusive as it sounds, but our responsibility, our role as a manager is to make technology more affordable. I mean, I’m not only talking cost-wise, I’m also talking in terms of efficiency and requirements for maintenance and ease of use.
And, you know, that’s what we do becomes a no brainer. And part of the habits sort of focus, it’s a big commercial win for us because, you know, we have a great product and we generate great business, but for the water utilities, it’s also, you know, one less thing they have to take care about, you know, remember, okay, we have, they have to know about their system.
Water network management isn’t an easy sport
They have to keep track of what is happening. They have to repair leaks, they have to detect leak. And they have to check, okay, why is this pipe corroded? So if you can take one headache from them, It’s fantastic. And then they can focus their limited time and budget on other things. I think when you introduce a new technology, if you bring that no brainer situation, no headache situation, you have a big advantage because you actually giving them time to work on other very important aspects of their operation and business.
And time is always limited or utilities.
Antoine Walter: Well, I could follow on all of those topics, but I have to be cautious of your time as well. So I propose you to close our deep dive and to switch to the rapid fire question.
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Rapid fire questions:
So in that last section, I try to keep the question short and you have to try to keep the answers short. Don’t worry. I’m the one to sidetrack. My first question is:
What is the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why?
Olivier Narbey: Yeah, I would like to say it’s the projects I’m working right now with Jeff piping system, which is a bit too early for that.
Yeah. The most impactful project I worked on me on myself was the constancy of supply for the city of Algiers in Algeria, just because it was this combination of huge engineering work, construction works, teamwork, learning experience. When you can contribute as much as you learn, it’s just a fantastic and exciting experiment.
What is your favorite part of your current job?
Olivier Narbey: I think the customer interactions is, is the best. I mean, that’s the fun part, the a lot of problems coming up, but it’s really the, the fan part exchange of experience. And I know where most of them are coming from, but you know, this exchange is always a fun and rewarding calendaring, difficult, you know, but yeah, reward.
What is the trend to watch out for, in the water industry?
Olivier Narbey: Well, I still think, I, you know, I’ve been thinking that for the past 15 years, maybe, but digital twins you know, we can talk about what a network, but, you know, real intelligence of digital twin and proper modeling of water systems, whether their treatment this supplies, which there it’s a huge, hugely powerful and completely unused.
Most of the time.
Antoine Walter: It’s very interesting because I was reading a GWI paper this morning, which was listing the top 10 water applications or water technologies of the decades and the flop and water technologies of the decade. And they had this digital twin floating in between because it’s not yet adopted to the level.
You could say it’s really one of the top 10 applications. So it’s somehow characterize us as. No, not yet adopted. And on the other hand, it could be so disruptive. I mean, apply a digital twin to your network, which is now perfectly balanced with pressure regulation. And now you can play a lot with the pressure and find out much more new things.
I’m not trying to reopen the deep dive, but it sounds to me like something which is, I mean, we’ll see the next decade, how big it becomes.
Olivier Narbey: I was at a Couple of conferences this year. And I’ve seen, you know, research Institute in Northern Europe doing some great stuff around, you know, what they can do with digital twins and modeling a water system is I was quite impressed and I thought I had a good knowledge over those things.
And I was really think so I could see something is happening.
What is the thing you care about the most when you’re working on a new project and what is the one you care the least?
Olivier Narbey: Maybe because I’m getting, I think to be surrounded and be by motivated people, driven people is a really a key parameter.
And if being at least a positive influence on this, I wouldn’t say the key driver because, you know, we always end up in different situation in positions and, you know, my, my goal is not to be the big influence. My goal is to be surrounded and contribute, to be a positive influence on the project. So, you know, the people you work with, you only become picky.
And if you can have your word on this and, you know, influence that, that’s very important for the fun part of things I would say. And the least important. Yeah. I mean, maybe the management position is probably the less important things for me today, you know, recognition of a management level of a seniority level is absolutely irrelevant for me too.
Do you have sources to recommend to keep up with the water and wastewater market trends?
Olivier Narbey: Yeah. I know about this guy is doing this excellent podcast…
Antoine Walter: You said you didn’t care about money, but you’re still going to get a check for that!
Olivier Narbey: So for sure, no, but I mean, this is an excellent source of information, which goes, it’s direct source of interaction with professionals and I think it’s quite good.
And you give people the opportunity to deep dive on topics. So I think it’s all right. Apart from that, I would strongly recommend to avoid LinkedIn.
Antoine Walter: Interesting. Everybody tells me LinkedIn as a recommendation and you recommend to them.
Beware of LinkedIn
Olivier Narbey: Yeah. I mean, you don’t get the full pictures. I mean, it’s, I try to interact sometimes on LinkedIn and trying to give a chance to people who publish something to, okay, you mentioned this and that in five lines in LinkedIn, but I mean, I guess you use the buzzword hydro train.
Yes. You use the buzz word, whatever, but, you know, there’s probably something very interesting behind that, but, you know, we didn’t quite get it. So I’m always trying to give a chance. I mean, two good people to too, and most of them do, but you know, by the time you achieve the answer to your question, that post is long gone and you know, nobody’s going to lose.
So, you know, it’s really fast and and really all you pass on is buzzwords and things. So yes, it’s good for networking and things like that. But to know more about water, I mean, interact with people, you know, what you’re doing is excellent on a personal level. You know, if you’re interested in, into technology, if you’re interested in a startup, a venture or a topic, LinkedIn is great to contact people and to engage with them.
But that’s just a, you know, like a phone book
Meet real people!
Antoine Walter: You use it as a source and then you’d take the discussion of platform and you discuss actively with them?
Olivier Narbey: Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s probably the best advice
Antoine Walter: to give you would be surprised. I had people on that microphone recommending Twitter, which is even like 1 million times faster than LinkedIn.
Okay. It was one guy Adam Tank, that recommended Twitter, but still, I think, basis.
Olivier Narbey: Yeah, probably with time. I mean, you will tell me because you, you have that experience with time. You get sufficient exposure and better response from people. If you are a known influencer and things like that. No, but
Antoine Walter: I see what you mean in terms of course you have just so much space in so much time, so it can stay quite superficial and it’s quite hard sometimes to go really in depth of a topic, but yeah.
Being a “dinosaur”
Olivier Narbey: Yeah. I mean, some, I know I sound like a dinosaur when I say that, but now you can use digital tools to better interact with people, you know, but it could be anything from WhatsApp. Emails are not really great, but Instagram, WhatsApp, you know, whatever helps you share media content in a fast way. And you, you know, whatever, it doesn’t matter.
It’s a smile. You interact with people, you get feedback. And if you connect, especially in COVID times, you know, if you have disability to connect to people and keep exchange going, you continue to, you know, even if you don’t build your professional experience, you build your network and you create opportunities for tomorrow and you can connect to people for tomorrow.
So I think there as long as it’s linked to people and interact with people and was good
Antoine Walter: and to close on that, keep the exchange going:
Would you have someone to recommend me to come on that very microphone?
Olivier Narbey: I don’t know. I mean, there are great people I’ve worked with. Some of them are retired, really inspiring people.
Well, I think if you could have gender harness on your microphone was, uh, you know, key management person within swears and also a chairman of iwi. That would be, I would be great. I mean, she probably has so much to, to tell her about the water industry in general, she’s on my bucket list. She’s a very inspiring person.
Antoine Walter: Well, thanks for the advice. Thanks that. That very thoughtful discussion. I really enjoyed that. See you soon then probably with the new developments and promise you, I’m not gonna send some buzzwords that you like low hanging fruit. I started something which was really interesting after that, but I didn’t want to insult anyone.
Olivier Narbey: No, you didn’t. I don’t think you did. Thanks.