In 2014, Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) had calculated that 4,000 litres of water were leaking from Swiss pipes every second, due to the country’s infrastructure being in need of repair. As a percentage, the leaks amount to 13.9% of the drinking water consumed in Switzerland every year. That may sound like a lot, but our country is actually faring better than our European neighbours. According to a 2019 report from the economic research company Bipe, the leakage rate in France is 20%, 21% in the United Kingdom, 27% in Belgium and 38% in Italy.
How can such a waste of water be explained, considering what a precious resource it is? "Replacing pipes, which are sometimes 100 years old in Western countries, is expensive, because the network is so vast and buried in the ground," says Arnaud Bisschop, co-manager of the Thematics Water Fund. "To reduce costs, water management organisations have long taken advantage of road works to replace their water pipes, without any real consideration for their condition. Now, smart sensors and connected infrastructure can intervene only if necessary. There is a lot of innovation in the sector, referred to as ‘digital water’."
In 2017, water expert Xylem acquired a high-potential digital water firm, Pure Technologies, which offers a solution called SmartBall. The device flows through pipes to accurately locate leaks with its built-in sensors. In October 2020, the French company Saur used the SmartBall to inspect part of its water network. The company’s findings revealed that the tool could detect leaks the size of a pinhead, with location accuracy of one metre. This solution can considerably optimise pipe maintenance.
Xylem is active throughout the water cycle – from water extraction to wastewater treatment – supplying pumps, treatment and analysis equipment and valves. And it is expected to benefit from US President Joe Biden’s $3 trillion infrastructure investment plan. The company forecasts revenues of between $5.16 billion and $5.26 billion in 2021, up 3% to 5% from 2020. Most analysts recommend holding shares, which have risen 35% since 1 January 2020.