Wellntel: Smart water for the masses
By leveraging digital sonar and cloud-based technologies, Wellntel is bringing transparency to the uncertain world of water wells.
Water is essential to life, so it’s no surprise that the world’s race towards digitization includes some important developments around good old H2O. Wellntel is one such company applying technology to water; by combining smart sensors and weather information, Wellntel aims to make groundwater safe, reliable, cost-effective, and abundant. To do so effectively, Wellntel needs to build meaningful partnerships with small farmers and well drillers.
Over 44 million people obtain the majority of their potable water from a private well, including 97 percent of rural populations. Many of these wells are drilled by a regional water well driller for a landowner, such as a homeowner or small farmer. Drilling wells is capital intensive, requiring a drilling rig; trailers with materials such as PVC pipe, bentonite clay, and silica sand; and tanks of water. The well driller generally charges a mileage-based fee to move and setup equipment, plus a fee for each foot of the finished well. For this reason, customers desire to have the most shallow well possible, and basic water wells can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Groundwater wells tap into aquifers, underground porous formations of water that vary widely in depth, size, and water quality. Aquifers can be dozens of feet below the land surface, or hundreds. These aquifers change over time, depending on precipitation and the geologic makeup surrounding the aquifer. If a groundwater well removes water from the aquifer faster than it is replenished by rainfall, the water level falls below the well’s pump. Operating under dry conditions causes the pump to break, contributing to the estimated $1.2 billion spent annually by well owners on unexpected well repair costs.  If the breakage is due to a severely depleted aquifer, it may be necessary to drill an entirely new well. 
To prevent over-pumping a well, landowners monitor water levels; three traditional methods are used:
- Manual – an operator physically measures the water level by lowering a measuring tape into the well. Cons: labor-intensive and infrequent.
- Measurement – a device known as a pressure transducer is permanently installed inside the well, in contact with the water to measure fluctuations of the water level. Cons: labor-intensive; expensive; short life span due to contact with the water.
- Sonar – an echolocation device issues sound waves into the well, and calculates the water level based on the time required for the sound to echo back to the receiver. Cons: unable to differentiate between sound reverberations from the water versus other well components; calculations are affected by groundwater temperature. 
Wellntel improves groundwater well management by providing landowners accurate, timely analysis of water levels, well conditions, and weather. Wellntel operates via a sensor attached to the top of a well. The sensor sends a digital signal into the well, and then transmits the results via radio waves to a remote unit called a gateway. The gateway uses an Ethernet-connection to upload the data to the cloud, where it is aggregated with external data such as temperature, rainfall, and past measurements. The resulting analysis provides insight into the performance and expected longevity of the well, the health of the underlying aquifer, and potential problems with the pump or other parts of the well infrastructure that may require repairs or replacement. Using this information, well owners can proactively avoid over-pumping the well and other problems. Compared to traditional measurement technologies, Wellntel therefore provides the following benefits:
- At an average cost of $500, Wellntel is cheaper.
- Wellntel can be installed without specialized tools or knowledge.
- Wellntel fits on top of the well, eliminating water damage risks.
- Information is not stored in the Wellntel sensor.
- Data produced by Wellntel’s patented digital signal is more accurate and detailed.
- Real-time analysis is available on any web-based platform. 
As a first mover, Wellntel has the opportunity to disrupt the entire water monitoring and conservation industry for homeowners and small farmers. To do so effectively, Wellntel needs to build meaningful relationships with its target consumers and water well drillers. Although Wellntel is much cheaper and easier than traditional water measurement techniques, small farmers may be unfamiliar with digital sonar technology and cloud-based technology. It is crucial that Wellntel demonstrate the accuracy and reliability of its product relative to traditional methods, and prove its value in minimizing repairs and net aquifer depletion. Without trust in the value proposition, well drillers may be reluctant to recommend installation of a Wellntel system on top of an already costly well drilling bill. With proper execution, Wellntel can bring transparency into the water well industry, even the parts of it that exist hundreds of feet below ground.
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 Engel, Jeff. “Wellntel Aims to Sprout Groundwater Info Market with Sonar Device.” Xconomy.com. 26 June 2014 <http://www.xconomy.com/wisconsin/2014/06/26/wellntel-aims-to-sprout-groundwater-info-market-with-sonar-device/> Accessed November 2016.
 “Frequently Asked Questions – The Hydrology of Groundwater.” USGS <http://md.water.usgs.gov/faq/groundwater.html> Accessed November 2016.
 “How does Wellntel work?” Wellntel <http://www.wellntel.com/about-us/background/how-wellntel-works.html> Accessed November 2016.
Student comments on Wellntel: Smart water for the masses
Rebecca, this article provides a great example of how technology is changing an industry that many of us are not familiar with. I certainly believe the technology that Wellntell has produced will bring an immense benefit to individuals who source their water from a private well, but the article left me with a few questions about the scalability of the project. Please see my questions and thoughts below
1) For the technology to function, the individual must have access to an Ethernet connection to transmit and to collect the data from Wellntel. Is the cost of internet service factored in to the total cost of ownership? My thought here is that after factoring in the cost of internet and the necessary equipment (e.g., gateway, computer, Ethernet cable, etc.) the cost of ownership may become a burden for some.
2) Would the individuals need a dedicated internet service line for the well, or could they use an existing internet account? Like my first question, the total cost of ownership seems to create a barrier for individuals who are seeking to install this type of technology for their well.
3) Does a data privacy risk exist? Technology has provided us with the opportunity to collect large data sets in real-time, but this capability also poses a risk if the data is accessed by the incorrect individuals. Thus, I do hope that Wellntell has given thought to data privacy and how to secure the data.
Thanks again for writing the article and for sharing your knowledge with us! This is certainly an industry I am not too familiar with, but I now have a better understanding of it.
Thanks for an engaging and well written piece, Rebecca. Like JMoreno, I am new to this industry and it has been great to gain new insights into this innovative business. It would be great to know how successful WelIntel has been at fundraising (I would imagine that there would be support from development finance institutions), and rolling out the technology in developing markets. Do you see any competition emerging soon, and how efective do you think their patents will be?
Thanks for the interesting article Rebecca. I wanted to expand on Jose’s points regarding cost, because the amount of capital required to establish the correct infrastructure base could pose a significant barrier. Updating this technology would also be necessary on a consistent basis since either repairs or upgrades will occur frequently. Potential solutions would include partnering with other private or public sources of capital which would provide the base necessary for future growth. Additionally, innovation on the technology side could lower costs, but again this innovation could only take costs so low.
Thanks again for the interesting read!