Water scarcity is one of the biggest problems on the planet. There isn’t enough clean drinking water to go around, yet an estimated 25% to 30% of treated water is lost through leaks in aging distribution networks. Such losses cost water utilities an estimated $14 billion annually, according to the World Bank. Enter TaKaDu, an Israeli start-up. TaKaDu’s smart data analysis software can be used to detect leaks, breaks, and equipment failures in water systems, enabling utilities to respond more rapidly to problems and efficiently minimizing water loss. It is among 31 companies named Sept. 1 by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum as Tech Pioneers offering new technologies or business models that could have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.
TaKaDu’s solution allows utility personnel to monitor operations via a Web interface that provides real-time alerts, reports, and network views, and to receive notifications by instant message or e-mail.
Customers include Britain’s largest water group, Thames Water; Jerusalem water utility HaGihon; Evides Waterbedrijf, the No. 2 water utility in the Netherlands; and several utilities in the Asia-Pacific region. TaKaDu charges a monthly fee for its service, which is marketed through partners and resellers such as IBM (IBM) and Schneider Electric .
“Clearly the water industry needs a game changer,” says TakaDu Chief Executive Amir Peleg, a serial entrepreneur who sold his previous start-up, online behavioral targeting and advertising firm YaData, to Microsoft. “There is a huge opportunity, both in financial terms and global impact.”
In developing countries alone, the volume of water lost would serve the daily needs of nearly 200 million people, the World Bank report says. Some of the worst waste occurs in developed countries. Losses can run as high as 50 percent in cities where it is prohibitively expensive to dig up the streets to replace ancient pipes. Until now, utilities such as Evides have monitored their operations by using computer simulations based on hydraulic models. “It is too difficult to pinpoint leaks using hydraulics,” says Robbert Wever, head of water production at Evides.
What’s more, utilities have had no easy way to analyze massive amounts of data. “We have 60,000 parameters online every 10 minutes and we have no way of using that to figure out what is going on,” says Wever. “With the TaKaDu software, every 10 minutes we get a warning saying, ‘You have got a problem here.’ What they are doing is turning the data into information we can use.”
TaKaDu’s system can pinpoint leaks by using sophisticated algorithms developed with the help of researchers from Talpiot, the Israeli military’s elite science and technology training program. “It is more cost effective to locate problems rapidly and fix problems as they occur,” says Michael LoCascio, a New York-based senior analyst with tech consultancy Lux Research.
Pascal Bonnefoi, water segment director at Schneider Electric, says the partnership with TaKaDu is helping Schneider compete with traditional IT companies such as Microsoft in offering complete enterprise-management systems to utilities.
Big players like Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft are increasingly moving into the infrastructure business. But given the magnitude of the water industry’s problem and the increasing amount of investment in environmentally-friendly technology, Peleg figures he is in the right place. “This is exactly what a good entrepreneur needs: problem, capital and a greenfield to operate in,” he says.
For a look at all this year’s winners, see a slideshow prepared by Informilo’s Jennifer L. Schenker which is running on Businessweek.com and an in-depth report on each of the tech pioneers that Schenker prepared for the World Economic Forum.