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Water Utility Innovations Explored in NYC Environmental Tech Lab

The Environmental Tech Lab in New York City selected eight companies to explore proofs of concept as part of its inaugural Operational Efficiency Challenge and Data Utilization Challenge.

Technologies to improve the operational efficiencies of the New York City water system, and respond to a changing climate, are at the center of a handful of companies selected for the inaugural cohort of the Environmental Tech Lab.

The lab was established earlier this year in the same model as the Transit Tech Lab — a place to test and deploy transit and transportation innovations. The Transit Tech Lab is a collaboration between the Partnership for New York City and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

Similarly, the Environmental Tech Lab was formed as a response to “all of the climate challenges that are happening, and continue to happen,” explained Stacey Matlen, senior vice president of innovation at the Partnership for New York City.

The lab follows the typical innovation program model — much like the Transit Tech Lab — working across multiple agencies to understand their priorities. The lab then explores two priority areas — which it calls challenges — to solicit companies from around the world with innovative technology to address them. This year’s challenges focused on operational efficiency and data utilization.

“What we heard from all [New York City] DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] bureaus is, their staff are incredibly stretched thin. They’re seeking to be more efficient with their work. And there’s a lot of manual processes that are in place to meet regulatory requirements,” said Matlen. “So anything that can help augment the work, and reduce that manual work, and get staff back some of that time to focus on more critical tasks is really important.”

Some 90 companies from more than 20 countries expressed interest in the challenges. About 40 senior DEP officials, along with a handful of private-sector venture capital leaders, reviewed the companies and winnowed the list to eight companies which will work with the lab to develop a proof of concept.

Gybe was selected for the Operational Efficiency Challenge. The company uses satellite imaging technology to derive water quality from looking at “color measurements or color imagery,” said Ivan Lalovic, CEO for Gybe.

Day-to-day monitoring and other regulatory tasks are no longer the only concerns for water utilities, said Lalovic.

“The environmental changes that are happening — some of the extremes in weather in particular — are driving kind of a new regime for what’s happening with water, with air, etc.,” he said.

“It’s twofold,” said Lalovic. “One is to relieve some of the burden on these very manual processes. And the other is that there’s a new regime in the environmental behavior, environmental conditions that these folks need to adjust to. And they need more insight and more data.”

InPipe Energy and Transcend Software were selected as part of the Data Challenge.

InPipe Energy will deploy its hydro-electric technology into the vast New York City water delivery system. The technology uses pressure traveling through water pipes to generate renewable energy.

"The amount of renewable energy is based on the flow and the pressure going through the pipeline,” explained Gregg Semler the CEO of InPipe Energy.

The HydroXS system — as it is known — comes in seven sizes that can produce 10 kilowatts to two megawatts of power from wasted energy in the distribution of water.

Other companies selected as part of the Operational Efficiency Challenge include: Knaq, Near Space Labs, SENTRY, SewerAI and VAPAR.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.