Conserve water. That is the call Californians have heard for years. And as the 21st century continues, fresh water will get increasingly precious in many areas of the world.
An Israeli company with its North American office in Rancho Bernardo is taking a technological approach to detecting water underground. It has helped authorities detect and fix pipeline leaks to save resources. Additionally, it can help engineers monitor groundwater that has the potential to destabilize hillsides or manmade earthworks.
The business, formerly known as Utilis, has rebranded as Asterra. It gathers its information using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from satellites. Asterra’s patented algorithms can comb through the data and detect the signature of water. The sensing technology is able to find water up to 10 feet deep in the soil. Water pipes are typically 4 feet underground.
During the summer, Asterra received the inaugural Innovation Award from the American Water Works Association. It marked that milestone, as well as its rebranding, with a reception in San Diego.
With its proof-of-concept stage over, “it’s clearly about scaling and expansion,” said James Perry, vice president and general manager with Asterra North America.
The business announced in March that it raised $6 million in venture capital from Beringea, which has offices in London and Detroit. Revenue has been doubling annually and is expected to triple in the coming year to tens of millions of dollars, Perry said.
The local office went from four employees some 18 months ago to 18 employees now. Asterra plans to grow its local office to 26 people by the end of 2022, and is tentatively planning to move to a bigger space in Carmel Valley.
Since 2018, Perry said, the business has been involved in 400 projects around the world, and has verified more than 38,000 leaks.
“It’s pretty staggering, the amount of water we’ve recovered,” Perry said.
Agencies also use the technology to find sewer pipe failures.
San Diego authorities have used Asterra’s technology to detect leaks. The business recently signed a five-year deal with the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Northern California, worth approximately $750,000.
In California, water loss is not just a water resources issue, but a greenhouse gas issue. With its arid climate and demand from large populations as well as agribusiness, California has hundreds of miles of aqueducts. Some 20% of all power generated in California goes toward “pushing water.” Perry said.
Keeping Tabs on Earthworks
At this point more than 90% of the company’s work is water leak detection. Asterra is moving into earthworks and civil engineering. One reason behind the recent rebrand, Perry said, was to emphasize that the company can do more than detect leaks.
“You hear about the mudslides on Highway 1 in Big Sur,” said Perry. Authorities often use sensors in the ground to detect the movement of the earth in key areas, particularly around roads, rail corridors, earthen dams and levees. Asterra wants to sell its services to detect the buildup of moisture and how it might affect ground movement.
The business is under contract with Network Rail in Great Britain as well as the Ohio and Georgia departments of transportation to provide such engineering data.
Within three years, Perry said, the company wants to increase its sales to architecture, engineering and construction firms to 80%.
The business uses satellite data from JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. Satellite data from other sources, including Argentina, is becoming available.
Asterra’s Rancho Bernardo office includes people working in sales, marketing, field engineering, new product development, finance and human resources. R&D; is in Israel.
CEO: Elly Perets
HEADQUARTERS: Tel Aviv, Israel, with U.S. office in Rancho Bernardo
BUSINESS: Service company that uses satellite imagery to find moisture beneath the surface of the earth
EMPLOYEES: 18 in San Diego
NOTABLE: Until recently, the company went by another name, Utilis
CONTACT: (858) 521-9442