How one city invests in the less sexy side of smart cities: leaky pipes
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Hagihon's Senior Advisor for Business Development, Joshua Yeres, accompanies a foreign delegation on a tour of the company's facilities in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Jerusalem. Photo Credit: Courtesy

Hagihon's Senior Advisor for Business Development, Joshua Yeres, accompanies a foreign delegation on a tour of the company's facilities in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Jerusalem. Photo Credit: Courtesy

Jerusalem’s public water company, Hagihon, is betting big on the country’s watertech startups to improve efficiency even with old infrastructure

Building an ideal smart city is herculean. While it is grabbing headlines around the tech world, even the most wealth-flush cities are contending with a mess in terms of infrastructure and city management that makes its implementation a nightmare. One of the often-overlooked elements of creating a flying-car, hoverboard marvel of a metropolis is the extensive networks of old utilities: namely water.

So when you’re working for the government of the capital city of one of the world’s most innovative countries, you better take advantage of the climate to test out some interesting things. Jerusalem is taking that opportunity through its public utilities, namely its public water company Hagihon.

Named for the ancient spring that made high elevation yet basin-based city living possible in Jerusalem, the company has received major grants to create partnerships with local and foreign startups who are putting an end to disruption in the water industry (see what I did there?).

The city is more than appropriate stomping ground for putting new tech through the ringer: outdated infrastructure, with some ancient archaeology mixed in, integrates with modern pipes in newer neighborhoods. The city’s humidity is incredible during the summer, its streets frozen in the winter, and its outskirts barren desert.

The political side also makes it a chore to collect payment from certain people who for one reason or another want to be off the grid, making supply and expenses a constant wildcard for Hagihon’s available budget for investments. That hasn’t held them back. They have over $140 million in annual revenue and manage a water network of over 1 million people.

“The old way of doing things was you’d have a water burst, then someone would call a 24/7 hotline and quick-response crews would have to repair the leak ASAP,” the company’s CTO Aharon Rosenberg told a visiting delegation of Indian civil servants. “Now, we’re eliminating that.”

Jerusalem: a testing ground for saving city infrastructure

A man runs from an urban pipe burst, a common problem for cities with aging pipelines (image CC BY 2.0 Magnus D via Flickr)

A man runs from an urban pipe burst, a common problem for cities with aging pipelines (image CC BY 2.0 Magnus D via Flickr)

The civil servants visiting Jerusalem were primarily from water utilities across India. Many cities in India do not have 24/7, treated water supplies available to residents, not to mention the more than 850 million Indians living in rural areas where infrastructure is even more scarce or poorly maintained. According to the Observer Research Foundation, the commercial center and largest city of the country, Mumbai, loses an absurd 650 million liters of water per day from leaky pipes — that’s the daily intake of H2O by nearby Pune, a city of over 3 million people.

That’s what makes a visit to Hagihon so important. Hagihon is currently on the verge of a two-year contract with Curapipe, a company that snakes patent-pending material into busted pipes to plug leaks. Their tech can plug holes between 2 mm and 8 mm thick and purportedly lasts up to 20 years. That’s big savings when you don’t have extra time nor money to shut down traffic and pay for replacement piping.

They’ve also installed roughly 2,700 acoustic sensors from startup Aquarius Spectrum on hydrants across the city to listen for leaks during nighttime quiet hours. Monitoring startup TaKaDu feeds morning reports to system managers of the entire network.

Visitors tour one of Hagihon's Jerusalem facilities (image: courtesy)

Visitors tour one of Hagihon’s Jerusalem facilities. Photo Credit: Courtesy

So far, Hagihon brandishes 51 leak detections and 39 repairs. Some have yet to be repaired not because of accessibility, but because those repairs have now been scheduled to be done at a later date, a calm deference to the frantic disaster repairs they’re used to. The pace of new technological adoption has drawn a gamut of visitors to the company: foreign officials, potential investors, venture capitalists, organizations like the UK Tech Hub, and potential customers of the same technologies.

They’ve won several grants from the Ministry of Infrastructure’s national Water Authority, Ministry of Environmental Protection, and the Ministry of Economy.

That ethos of modernization has gotten the city some major street cred. They’re working as part of the Horizon 2020 POWER consortium and with a number of European firms via the EU’s FP7 Safewater consortium, working to produce an “enhanced system for protecting the municipal water system from contamination.” They also have a memorandum of understanding with New York City to coordinate on implementing smart city cybersecurity for new technologies.

“There is no R&D budget per se, seeing as Hagihon cannot invest equity in outside projects,” CTO Aharon Rosenberg tells Geektime. “We are at present working on a package of benefits for water-related technology companies from the municipality by way of the Jerusalem Development Agency (JDA).”

That innovation has birthed several of Hagihon’s business partners. They are working with water sensor companies Ayyeka and Blue-I Technologies, microturbine startup HydroSpin and low-energy (LE) pressure control business Stream Control. Other companies working with Hagihon’s subsidiaries include MemTechICS², Siga, and Radiflow.

 

Senior Biz Dev advisor Joshua Yeres shows off the TaKaDu GIS monitoring system to a visiting delegation of Indian civil servants (image: Gedalyah Reback)

Senior Business Development Advisor Joshua Yeres shows off the TaKaDu GIS monitoring system to a visiting delegation of Indian civil servants. Photo Credit: Gedalyah Reback / Geektime

Israel’s prowess in water tech is increasingly renown, particularly in desalination. The country turned a drought into a gold mine as it has brought its water supply under control and now projects getting 95% of its water supply from recycled H2O by 2025, according to Jewish National Fund engineer Yossi Schreiber.

Still, updating infrastructure or managing outdated pipelines is a tall order. For the country’s capital city, it’s a major opportunity to bring new business in and amplify the city’s reputation for innovation. They might be hamstringed by budget restrictions and dependent on the angelic grants of the municipality and national government, but they have been able to impart a lot to the flourishing tech companies working with the city.

Rosenberg added, “Our contribution to the startups is in several levels: our knowledge, use of our facilities, assisting them achieve national/multinational grant financing, allowing them use of our logo, penetration of international markets, commitments to enable access to our engineers, and for meetings with potential investors and customers.”

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