Rafael Prieto, CEO and founder of H2 Solar EnergyHe has experience in finance, commercialisation, marketing and strategic management in the management of business units in Europe and LATAM, as well as in global marketing in the private sector.
He currently directs H2 Solar Energya company focused on the development of renewable energy solutions for self-consumption, fundamentally aimed at the agricultural irrigation sector through the design, construction and operation of floating photovoltaic plants on the water sheets of irrigation ponds.
What does digitisation mean for Rafael Prieto?
The digitisation of a sector is basically the introduction of digital technology into its processes and activities to improve efficiency and productivity.
By digitising an industry, companies and individuals can work more efficiently, compete better and offer better services to their customers. This means changing the way we work, how we organise ourselves and how we do business.
Digitalisation involves the adoption of tools such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, the cloud and advanced communication networks. Undertaking this activity in a sector also entails changes in the way of working, internal organisation, the business model, and collaboration between companies and their partners.
The process of digitalisation is happening in almost all sectors, such as industry, agriculture, education, health, transport and financial services, creating new opportunities and challenges for all.
To what extent do you think a difference needs to be made, and what does this sector need in terms of digitalisation and energy and water efficiency?
Digitalisation and energy and water efficiency are critical aspects for the transition of the water sector to a so-called 4.0 sector, as they can help address challenges such as climate change, increasing water demand and the preservation of natural resources.
Some key areas where digitisation and efficiency can make a difference in the water sector could be the real-time monitoring and control. The implementation of sensors and real-time monitoring systems allows the collection of accurate information on water use and water quality, both in its treatment, distribution, purification and reuse processes. This can help companies and authorities to identify potential problems, optimise water use and make data-driven decisions.
Another key issue is the reduction of Non Revenue Water. Digitalisation can help detect leaks, reduce fraud and prevent water losses in distribution systems. The use of technologies such as data analytics and artificial intelligence can improve efficiency in identifying and repairing leaks.
Digitalisation in the water sector can also improve energy efficiency in the operation of water treatment and pumping plants. Optimising processes and using more efficient technologies can reduce energy consumption and consequently reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, in terms of demand management, digitalisation allows better control and management of water demand, whether in the residential, industrial or agricultural sphere. The adoption of smart technologies and consumer awareness of responsible water use can help reduce consumption and ensure the availability of water resources for future generations. The creation of digital twins in treatment plants (potabilisation or purification) and in industrial or agricultural facilities will enable significant progress in water resource management.
The incorporation of renewable energy sources in water sector operations, such as solar energy, in particular floating photovoltaic, taking advantage of the large sheets of water in reservoirs and irrigation ponds, or wind energy aimed at reducing the high energy costs of desalination plants, can increase sustainability and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. In the water sector, let us not forget the generation of biogas, neutral in terms of CO2emissions from water treatment processes and their incorporation into electricity and heat generation processes.
In short, since H2 Solar EnergyWe believe that digitisation and energy efficiency and water are essential to ensure sustainable and responsible use of water resources. The water sector must adopt these technologies and approaches to meet current and future challenges.
With your vast experience in this sector, how do you see the current state of water digitalisation in Spain (especially in irrigation)?
Spain has been making progress in the digitisation of the water sector, including irrigation, in recent years. The combination of a growing awareness of the importance of water efficiency and the availability of digital technologies has driven the adoption of innovative solutions. Some developments in water digitalisation in the field of irrigation in Spain include:
- Precision agriculture: Technologies such as soil moisture sensors, weather stations and remote sensing systems have been implemented to monitor environmental conditions and plant needs. This allows farmers to make irrigation decisions and improve water use efficiency.
- Smart irrigation systems: The adoption of sectorised, automated and remotely controlled irrigation systems has increased in Spain. These systems allow for more efficient and precise irrigation, adapting to soil conditions and plant needs and minimising leakage, thus reducing water wastage.
- Use of data and analysis: The collection and analysis of data on water consumption, crop health and weather conditions has become more common in Spain. This helps farmers to optimise their irrigation practices.
- Collaboration and coordination: Digitalisation has also facilitated collaboration and coordination between farmers, irrigation communities, businesses and government agencies. Digital platforms and mobile applications enable the sharing of information, knowledge and best practices in water management.
Despite these advances, there is still room for improvement in the digitalisation of water in Spain, especially in irrigation.
Lack of investment, resistance to change and regulatory barriers can slow down the process. However, growing awareness of the importance of water efficiency and increased government support, such as EU funds, can boost the uptake of digital technologies and solutions in the water and irrigation sector in Spain.
What has this digitisation been like, is it homogenous, where and why are there differences in the sector?
At H2 Solar Energy, we are aware that digitalisation in the water sector varies significantly depending on a number of factors, such as the level of economic development, existing infrastructure, government policies, awareness and education, geographic and climatic conditions. These differences influence the adoption and application of digital technologies in the water sector globally. It is crucial to recognise and address these differences to ensure that all countries and regions benefit from the opportunities and advantages offered by digitalisation in this sector.
Some of the most advanced countries in the digitisation of the water sector are, firstly, Israel, with its innovations in efficient irrigation, desalination and wastewater reuse technologies, is a world leader in water management and conservation. Digitisation and the adoption of cutting-edge technologies have been instrumental in addressing water challenges in this arid country.
In the Netherlands, known for its advanced water management systems and flood control efforts, digital technologies have been adopted in areas such as water monitoring, treatment and distribution. Government policies and public-private partnerships have driven innovation in the water sector.
Finally, I would like to highlight Singapore, which has made significant progress in the digitisation of the water sector through initiatives such as smart water management, floating photovoltaic plants and wastewater reuse. Investment in research and development and the promotion of technological solutions have been key to Singapore's success in water management.
What have been the phases or milestones in the digitisation of the sector, and why have they been happening?
It started by involving the automation of processes and the adoption of information systems to manage water-related data. Implementing automated control systems and the use of data management software to monitor and control water systems.
With the advancement of technology and the advent of sensors, the water sector began to adopt remote and real-time monitoring systems to measure parameters such as flow, water quality and pressure in distribution networks. Telemetry enabled the transmission of data from sensors to control stations, which improved efficiency in decision making and water resource management.
Closer to home, the adoption of IoT technologies and improved connectivity enabled greater integration and communication between devices and systems in the water sector. This facilitated real-time data collection, analysis and sharing, leading to more efficient and proactive water management.
With the increasing availability of data and the evolution of data analytics and artificial intelligence technologies, the water sector has started to use these tools to improve decision making, event prediction and process optimisation. AI and machine learning enable the development of 'digital twins' to predict water demand, detect leaks, and improve water quality and water use efficiency.
At H2 Solar Energy we believe that the digitisation of the water sector will continue to evolve in the future, as new technologies and approaches emerge to improve the management and conservation of water resources.
What are the major benefits of digitisation?
Among the most significant benefits of digitisation are water and energy efficiency.
Digital technologies make it possible to optimise water and energy use through real-time monitoring and more precise control of irrigation, treatment and distribution systems.
Leak detection and prevention through real-time monitoring and the implementation of sensors makes it possible to detect and prevent leaks in water distribution networks, reducing losses and improving system efficiency.
Improved water quality. Digitalisation facilitates the monitoring of water quality and enables real-time decisions on treatment and distribution, ensuring a safe and quality water supply for consumers.
The adoption of digital technologies can lead to a reduction in operation and maintenance costs, as it allows for more efficient management and optimisation of processes. In turn, resilience to climate change, where digitalisation helps to address challenges such as drought, flooding and water scarcity by enabling better planning, prediction and management of water resources.
Finally, the availability of real-time data and data analysis allows informed and evidence-based decisions to be made, which improves water management and user satisfaction.
What difficulties are there for progress in this regard?
There are also challenges on the road to further digitalisation in the water sector. At H2 Solar Energy, we know that addressing the following challenges will be crucial to ensure continued progress in the digitisation of the water sector and to maximise the benefits that these technologies can offer.
Implementing digital technologies can require significant investment in infrastructure and equipment, which can be a challenge, especially for developing countries or regions with limited resources.
The digital divide and inequalities in access to digital technologies can hinder the adoption and uptake of digital solutions in the water sector, especially in rural or disadvantaged areas.
Successful implementation of digital technologies requires adequate training and education to ensure that employees and end-users understand and use digital solutions correctly. In addition, lack of interoperability between different systems and devices can hinder the adoption of digital technologies and limit the ability of organisations to share data and collaborate.
How can institutions support this digitisation, and do you think they could do better?
Institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, can play a key role in promoting and supporting the digitisation of the water sector. Some ways in which institutions can support this process are policies and regulations that encourage the adoption of digital technologies in the water sector, including tax incentives, funding and subsidy programmes for research and development projects.
We must invest in improving and modernising water infrastructure, but also in telecommunications, especially in rural areas, and renewable energy. As well as in research and development, encouraging collaboration between academia, industry and government agencies. As well as collaboration and cooperation between different actors in the water sector, including end-users, utilities, non-governmental organisations and private companies, to share knowledge and best practices in digitisation.
What do you foresee in the future of digitalisation of the water cycle?
We are likely to see further development and deployment of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing and the Internet of Things. These technologies will enable more efficient and sustainable management of water resources, as well as greater resilience to climate change and other global challenges. Furthermore, H2 Solar Energy expects digitalisation to foster transparency and end-user participation in water management, allowing for greater awareness and responsibility in the use of water resources.