SA Water Chief Executive, Roch Cheroux, has 25 years experience in the water industry in design, construction, financing and operating activities in line and executive management positions. Under his leadership, the utility has embarked on an award-winning digital transformation journey and set an ambitious target of zero net electricity costs from 2020.

Prior to joining SA Water in July 2016, Mr Cheroux held the position of Chief Executive of SUEZ South East Asia, based in Singapore.

Between July 2011 and June 2015, Mr Cheroux was the CEO of SUEZ – Degremont in Australia and New Zealand, working out of Sydney. Under his tenure, the group became a market leader in the region.

Before joining Degremont, he was Managing Director of United Utilities Australia, based in Adelaide, and was involved in the Riverland water treatment plants (now operated by TRILITY) and the Adelaide Desalination Plant project.

He has also had considerable experience in European water utilities, having commenced his career in France and worked for several years as CEO of Estonia’s Tallinn Water, which owns and operates water and sewerage assets in the country’s capital.

Mr Cheroux said he was attracted to working at SA Water because of the unique challenges the utility faces.

“The role is obviously very interesting. SA Water is a large organisation that provides services for more than 1.6 million people across the entire state. You have a combination of urban water and regional water, with some very, very remote communities.”

Mr Cheroux said that he feels privileged to be in a position where he can influence the vision, the strategy and the culture of the organisation.

“In 2016, we took some time to look at where we were as an organisation, and listen to our customers, and really understand what they were expecting from us. In November of the same year, we launched our new vision, which is World Class Water Services for a Better Life.

“This new vision was, for us, the way to focus the organisation on customers. We really wanted everyone to be aware that the only reason we exist is because we’ve got customers.

“We’re here to provide an essential service so the challenges come from what our customers want us to do. Obviously their expectations are high, and rightly so. But their expectations are also changing, so tomorrow they will be expecting something different from us.

“We have to be very agile and we have to be very flexible to be able to deliver what they’re expecting from us, while at the same time keeping a very clear idea about the purpose of the organisation.”

Ensuring staff are engaging with the vision, and also feel supported and valued in their roles, is key to driving innovation within the utility.

“Working on the culture has brought a lot of new ideas and innovation into the business. I’ve got some ideas, but there are 1500 people in the organisation that have extremely good ideas, and a lot of the time, much better ideas than me. My role is to make sure they can bring their ideas to the table, and we can make it happen together. That’s really important,” Mr Cheroux said.

Using digital tools to improve operations

As part of its move towards becoming a purely digital utility, SA Water has developed and rolled out a number of tools to enable field staff to work without paper. This includes a work order app, digital work scheduling and dispatch system, and various digital maps and forms.

All field staff can access these tools through a mobile phone or tablet, giving them faster access to data and documents.

“Staff can now use their mobile devices to receive work details and inform systems throughout the organisation of the status of a job,” Mr Cheroux said.

“If someone is given the job to go and repair a break, for example, then using their mobile device, they can explain where they are, what they’re doing, and what stage they are at. This information will go to our customer care center in real time.”

If a customer calls, the team at SA Water’s Customer Care Centre can provide information about when a work crew will arrive on-site, how long a job will take to complete and when the customer will have their mains water supply restored.

SA Water has also been working on digitising its assets through its innovative smart water network, which uses acoustic sensors, pressure and flow data, high speed transient pressure sensors, smart meters and water quality sensors to improve water services and network reliability in Adelaide.

“When we listen via the music of the network, then we’re able to understand that if the music changes, then it means that something is going to happen,” Mr Cheroux said.

“We’re able to detect that there’s a small crack in the pipe, which could turn into a leak, and use this information to plan the repair at night so we don’t disrupt traffic and we don’t disrupt the life of our customers. It’s proven to be extremely efficient. That’s the sort of innovation where we’re using digital tools to bring something new to our customers.”

The first stage of the smart water network program integrated more than 400 sensors across the Adelaide CBD between April and July 2017.

The utility is extending the smart network program to targeted locations in Adelaide’s wider metropolitan area and will also use smart technology to undertake projects in pressure management and non-revenue water management in both urban and regional communities.

Achieving a zero cost energy future

SA Water is looking to install 152 megawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) generation and 35 megawatt hours of energy storage over the next two years as part of its ambitious goal to achieve zero net electricity costs from 2020.

Distributing generation and storage capacity across approximately 70 of its sites around South Australia is forecast to bring about the zero net outcome, also referred to as Project Zero.

Mr Cheroux said neutralising the company’s electricity costs – which reached $55 million for 220 gigawatt hours in 2016-17 – will produce an operational saving to be passed onto customers in keeping with the objectives of the independent regulatory process.

“We’re working hard to keep our customers’ water prices as low and stable as possible, and big operational circuit breakers like this are essential to achieving savings and future price reductions,” Mr Cheroux said.

“Locating generation behind the meter will improve our resilience to grid interruptions, significantly reduce our network charges and isolate our business from electricity market price volatility, in both the short and long term.

“The maturity of solar technology has allowed us to confidently determine how and where it can assume supply for our energy-intensive water treatment and pumping operations, and export to the market to return revenue.”

Installing the solar arrays will be SA Water’s first focus, with the selection and acquisition of storage to be informed by a series of thermal, flywheel and battery storage trials currently being progressed with specialist technology partners.

“We were already producing electricity with biogas and hydro. Now we need to produce a lot more so we decided to invest in solar panels. As well as the traditional solar panels, we will also have floating solar panels that we can put on our reservoirs,” Mr Cheroux said.

“Energy storage is another big part of the project and we’ve got three solutions here. One is using traditional chemical batteries, however batteries have a finite life and a set number of cycles. We are testing two other technologies – thermal energy storage, using molten silicon, and flywheels, which are mechanical energy storage.

“The third aspect of Project Zero is analytics. We’re producing energy, we’re using energy, but we’ve also got the possibility of managing our loads. For example, pumping when it’s most efficient to pump, when we’ve got plenty of energy or we know that our storage system is full. The timing of our energy use is critical.”

Mr Cheroux said that SA Water currently buys its electricity on the spot market, which is unusual for a water utility.

“Instead of having a fixed-price contract with a retailer, we buy electricity when it’s cheap, and produce more when it’s expensive because we can resell electricity back to the grid.”

Sustainability in the water industry

While Project Zero is a key part of reducing SA Water’s electricity operating costs, the utility has already cut more than $3 million from its electricity bills since 2013.

Through renewable energy generation, the utility’s Bolivar and Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plants are now 92 and 80 per cent energy self-sufficient respectively.

Hydroelectric systems at Hope Valley, Seacliff Park and the Adelaide Desalination Plant (ADP) supply approximately 7000 megawatt hours per year, equating to 14 per cent of the total electricity produced by SA Water.

SA Water’s solar portfolio began taking shape in December 2017 with the installation of a pilot 100 kilowatt solar PV and 50 kilowatt hour battery storage system at its Crystal Brook Depot.

A further $10 million investment in up to five megawatts of solar PV to be positioned at treatment facilities in metropolitan Adelaide was announced in the same month, with first installation planned for mid-2018.

Having already been jointly awarded Digital Utility of the Year with Horizon Power at the 2018 Digital Utility Awards, Mr Cheroux hopes that SA Water will also become a leading example of best practice energy management and efficiency.

“Scaling up our solar capacity will jolt our energy management program towards our goal of zero net electricity costs by 2020,” Mr Cheroux said.

“It’s important to be bold when it comes to innovation and achieving the kind of leaps we are after.

“Our sustained focus on renewable energy generation is also helping reduce carbon dioxide emissions and contributing to greenhouse gas reduction targets.”

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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