Cleantech player Pani Energy brings AI to the fight against water scarcity

B.C. cleantech startup Pani Energy has teamed up with a global leader in water desalination to help its plants run more efficiently.

Devesh Bharadwaj launched Pani Energy in 2017

The B.C. company, founded by Devesh Bharadwaj, has teamed up with a global leader in water desalination to help its plants run more efficiently

Not yet 30, Devesh Bharadwaj is helping the world solve water scarcity. With his team, the CEO of Victoria-headquartered Pani Energy created an artificial intelligence system that can shrink energy costs for water treatment plants.

Now Pani has joined forces with Aquatech—the top global provider of desalination, which removes the salt from seawater—to “push the industry to a new standard that’s never been achieved before for energy consumption,” Bharadwaj says.  

The two main roadblocks with water desalination are energy consumption and biofouling, or degradation of the membranes that separate salt from water. LoWatt, Pennsylvania-based Aquatech’s proprietary membrane desalination process, reduces energy use and prevents biofouling by combating bacteria without the need for chemicals.

Pani, which also works with industrial and municipal wastewater clients, optimizes treatment plants’ energy costs with technology that processes data much faster than humans can. The company’s cloud-based analytics system, AI Coach, takes information from a plant and connects it to a digital twin of the facility. As a result, users can understand the operation in unprecedented detail, explains Bharadwaj, a 2020 winner of our 30 Under 30 competition.

“AI allows you to find those efficient points, like running millions of simulations on the plant, and predict for the future, learn from historical data, find patterns and operate the plant in a way that is not possible without that solution,” he says.

The two biggest challenges of the century

Growing up in India, Bharadwaj didn’t take water and other natural resources for granted—in fact, it’s something he thought about often. “When I moved here, I realized it doesn’t have to be that way,” recalls the New Delhi native. “I think access to resources can be a baseline, and it can be something you don’t have to worry about.”

Since starting his mechanical engineering degree at UVic, Bharadwaj has dedicated himself to tackling that problem, along with the unfolding climate emergency. Founded in 2017, the same year he graduated, Pani has begun commercializing its technology in Canada, the U.S., India, the Middle East and Singapore.

Access to fresh water has become a global crisis: some 1.1 billion people lack a safe drinking supply, according to the World Water Council. Largely thanks to climate change, sources and their quality keep declining. As fresh water becomes saltier, complex treatment processes require more energy, pushing up greenhouse gas emissions.

Pani, which has grown to 25 team members, aims to make a difference. “Climate change and access to resources like water are the two biggest challenges of the century,” Bharadwaj says. “I believe AI solutions with the purpose to improve our societal infrastructure will have a massive role in solving both these challenges.”