Water Innovation Summit 2014: Key Takeaways

Thumbnail_Water Innovation SummitFrom September 23- 24, Cleantech Group hosted its third annual Water Innovation Summit at the historic Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, convening a group of 100+ attendees active in the water industry and interested in exploring ways to create smarter, better water. The event brought together leading corporate executives, utilities, industry influencers, investors, and entrepreneurs through a highly participatory format.

Four discussions involved attendees in rich dialogue on (1) The Oil & Gas industry, (2) The Agriculture, Food & Beverage Industry, (3) The Benefits of Cross-Pollination, and (4) Internet of “Water”. Two round table discussions on challenges associated with the municipal and industrial sectors allowed participants to engage in more intimate conversations, as well. These round tables were facilitated by a number of designated “hosts” from companies such as Ecolab, Dow Chemical, Whole Foods, Oasys Water, and more..

In addition to the programming, the first day offered a tour to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). EBMUD is unique versus other North American wastewater plants, attendees learned, as it generates 120% of its electricity needs through renewable biogas produced from its waste streams (and sells the surplus back to the grid).The evening concluded back at the Claremont with a poolside dinner where attendees enjoyed additional informal networking.

While each discussion highlighted some unique challenges of the highlighted industries and sectors, two common themes arose throughout the course of summit:

  1. What is the true value of water?

Despite providing a crucial input into the industrial processes of energy and agricultural production, and its widespread need across the municipal sector, participants agreed that the true value of water is currently misaligned and therefore inaccurately priced. Each sector and player internalizes the treatment cost of water, but the market fails to value the social and economic externalities of water use. Power and energy producers in the room highlighted challenges associated with producing more energy, with the trade-off of increased water use – the frontlines of the Water Energy Nexus. Utilities echoed similar sentiments on the mispricing of water, reminding the group that by law they are required to only charge a customer the cost of transporting water.

  1. What works in water? Intellectual property or intriguing service?

As discussions progressed toward solutions, a dichotomy between two approaches arose. Some investors cautioned start-ups from turning to their customers or clients to solve the challenges associated with their unique businesses. Suggestions included focusing on the refinement of one’s business model and intellectual property in particular, to first prove they have a profitable solution to a customer need. An alternate viewpoint suggested that the water ecosystem is complex and therefore also requires service-based solutions to address large scale problems. While differing opinions on the two options exist, participants agreed that finding the right partner remains an important piece of the solution.

We look forward to continuing this conversation and sharing our lessons learned.  To stay up-to-date on innovation activity in the water industry, please visit i3 and check out our Water & Wastewaster sector page.

Interested in other events hosted by Cleantech Group?  Check out our upcoming events, which convene corporate executives, policy makers, investors, entrepreneurs, and industry thought-leaders to network, learn, and get deals done.