Step Change: next decade’s key concept?

We already know that in natural systems of all kinds change happens in big jumps. Systems tend to be resilient to change up to a point, but when pushed to a certain limit, a dramatic change occurs and the system enters a new state; a step change occurs.

Step Change in Perth Inflows

Step Change in Perth Inflows

The general public in Australia is quite familiar with step change. The water utility in Western Australia, Water Corporation had always looked at long term average inflows when doing their supply planning. This had always worked well, until their rainfall took two dramatic steps down, with an even more dramatic fall in inflows. The reduction was not gradual…rainfall patterns changed overnight.

Other major capital cities in Australia have had similar experiences, requiring something like 10 billion dollars worth of infrastructure in the form of desalination plants, reuse plants and pipelines to secure water supplies for major cities.

Global climate change promises to follow a similar pattern. It won’t be long until step change is the phrase on everyone’s lips.

How will the decentralised wastewater recycling industry mature?

I am interested to get people’s thoughts/perspective on this.

In Australia there is a rapidly growing market for small (kilolitres rather than megalitres a day) grey water and blackwater recycling systems for office buildings and residential estates. It is interesting to see that the design/fabricate/install/operate industry serving this market is still dominated by small players, mostly owner managed firms operating on a regional level.

We had a recent case in Queensland of a successful small business going bankrupt through trying to grow too quickly.

I will be very interested to see how this industry matures. Is there something about decentralised systems that makes them inherently suitable for small businesses to deliver? The margins are relatively small compared to large projects, and perhaps the customisation required means that it is difficult to reap the benefits of economies of scale.

This could be an important question. Climate change drivers make centralised systems start to look less attractive, and decentralised water/wastewater systems could start to take significant business away from the major utilities. Will we see utilities move into this space? Will a major private sector environment business start to buy up small firms? Or will it remain a cottage industry?