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Smart Water Project of the Year

For the project that most effectively harnessed digital solutions to achieve excellence in water or wastewater management in 2020.

Suez COVID-19 City Watch programme

What is it?

The widespread deployment of system developed to sample, transport and analyse wastewater to detect traces of SARS-CoV-2 and provide early warning of infection spikes. First, Suez determines the optimum locations in the network to install automatic samplers that collect wastewater samples over a 24-hour period once a week. These samples are then transported to one of two Suez-run labs in Spain and France, staffed with in-house epidemiologists to interpret the data. This service feeds into a digital platform that visualizes information on virus trends and risk indicators for the use of municipalities and health authorities.

What has it done?

The COVID-19 City Watch programme has been applied in more than 70 Spanish cities, covering approximately 12.6 million people, and over 100 municipalities in France. On several occasions, this system has successfully detected oncoming infections surges, such as in the city of Dunkirk which was put into lockdown after receiving viral data from Suez. City Watch also monitors several schools and at one site a cluster of infections was identified in the wastewater after the return of children and teachers from the holidays which was confirmed with physical tests.

What makes it special?

Unlike any other service of its kind, Suez is responsible for every step of the process, from installing the samplers to the lab analysis and visualising the data.

The company developed its own rigorous scientific methodology for testing wastewater that has been validated by thorough inter-laboratory studies and French government scientists.


The system was developed in a remarkably short time frame and benefited from Suez’s vast range of partnerships with utilities across France and Spain to roll out the testing service at an unmatched scale.


Khobar I digital twin, Saudi Arabia

What is it?

A digital twin for the development of Saudi Arabia’s 210,000m3/d Khobar I RO seawater desalination plant. The digital twin comprises a physical model incorporating more than 40,000 sensors and software to provide high-precision simulation of every function of the control system. It can be used to analyse and optimise productivity and, crucially, it can all be done remotely.

What has it done?

The digital twin can be operated remotely, which allowed Acciona to complete the commissioning of the plant despite COVID-19 travel restrictions from its base in Spain with only a skeleton crew on-site. Everything from the electrical circuits to the control systems was tested via the digital twin. The programme allowed for rapid, on-time delivery of the project in one of the most hostile operating environments for contractors ever seen.

What makes it special?

The novel application of remote servers and powerful cybersecurity protocols meant the digital twin process could be safely rolled out on an unprecedented scale. As the largest comparable example of the process to date, the Khobar plant demonstrates that digital design expertise can be deployed even on the world’s largest plants.

During a year when ongoing projects were regularly stymied by illnesses and travel restrictions brought in by the pandemic, the flawless use of digital expertise and remote working meant international collaboration on a crucial project could continue apace in the midst of a pandemic.


The project marked the most comprehensive use of the digital twin approach to date, employing a vast number of sensors to simulate the entire plant’s functionality, not just for training purposes, but to dynamically improve real performance following commissioning.

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