WT: Kevin, how would you describe yourself as ‘Chief Evangelist’ (undercover CEO) of RainGrid?
Mercer: I am an urban freshwater protection advocate who designed an intelligent technology solution to the wicked challenge homeowners, neighbourhoods, and whole cities face from the increasingly costly impact of variable rainfall patterns associated with a warming climate.
WT: What is Rain Grid?
Mercer: Rain Grid Inc. Is a privately held, climate flood and drought adaptation company headquartered in Toronto, Canada founded in 2014.
The Aggregated Rain Grid Outcome Network of intelligent rainfall retention and reuse uses artificial intelligence to target precipitation forecasting to individual properties and neighbourhoods.
The Internet of Things (IoT) manages cisterns or rooftop storage to eliminate rainfall runoff from a diverse range of properties including residential, school, condominium, and business.
The system also manages water reuse as groundwater recharge, exterior property irrigation, and interior property potable offsets.
This transforms rain into valuable ecosystem credits instead of a costly waste stream of contaminated stormwater. The result is the climate resilience of cities and their citizens to pluvial flooding.
The restoration of rain becomes the lifeblood of freshwater ecosystems and the recharge of groundwater to achieve drought resilience.
WT: What is the motivation that compelled you to make a difference?
Mercer: What motivates our work is a desire to protect freshwater ecosystems.
RainGrid is premised on the belief that cities need to respect their citizens as equal partners in building the new economy of circular rainfall; it represents a transformational mindset away from the drainage industrial complex that has come to dominate civic infrastructure.
My mission is to make scalable property-based circular rainfall technology that out competes the dominance of the conventional linear stormwater market.
In taking the circularity/biomimicry approach we are emphasizing stewardship over the conventional industry approach of conventional engineering.
WT: You were a recent participant in the UN 2023 Water Conference as one of the Top Innovators. Congratulations! What has this meant for you?
Mercer: That was RainGrid’s global coming out party! To quote some unknown commentator, “It’s a long road to an overnight success story”.
Our path to building climate-resilient cities for the benefit of citizens and their ecosystems has only scratched the surface.
This recognition has brought us seed investment from HCL Tech and we hope this will inspire Canada to support more of its global tech champions.
WT: How is your take on stormwater a unique perspective over that of traditional water management?
Mercer: Stormwater is what happens when we do not do our job properly.
Stormwater is not something to create and treat. As climate change impacts intensify, communities have been continuing to build larger conventional piped and treatment infrastructure. Ironically, bigger infrastructure and inadequate water treatment continue to magnify the problems.
Our Aggregated Rain Grid Outcome Network (ARGoN) Systems highlight the benefits of a utility-scale or aggregated approach to intelligent rainfall retention and reuse. We also refer to this as Circular Rainfall.
WT: ‘Circular Rainfall’? Tell us more.
Mercer: The possibilities are expansive and exciting for cities and their citizens. On the face of it, ARGoN Systems eliminate stormwater, and in so doing significantly reduce a city’s exposure to climate variable flood and drought impacts.
Currently, we spend billions in Canada and trillions globally to “manage” stormwater.
Meanwhile, we spend equally huge sums treating and piping drinking water (of various forms of quality), with massive inputs of energy, to provide water for which property-based rainfall could easily and less expensively service as a source for our needs.
On a watershed scale, retaining only 1 cubic meter of rainfall (1,000 litres or 264 US gallons – the volume of two rain barrels or a small cistern) per residential or commercial property was demonstrated to achieve a 26% reduction in the discharge of hot, fast, and dirty stormwater runoff, every time it rained.
Achieving close to net zero runoff from a property or at the very least entirely taking the rooftop runoff offline from the sewer system, virtually eliminates stormwater runoff that otherwise does not fall on roadways.
WT: What you have created requires a paradigm shift. How do you envision moving forward?
Mercer: Restoring the natural hydrology of a city is not easy but begins by eliminating runoff, and that is the basis of a circular economy of rain.
Rain grids bridge the private/public divide chasm our public utilities have created. Shifting from the utility/customer paradigm to a community-based public/ private partnership empowers property owners as shared owners and partners in solving the climate adaptation challenge our cities face.
Rain grids also transform and bridge the environmental equity chasm by extending asset-managed infrastructure to every property regardless of the owners’ capacity to finance it. This is achieved by reducing costs to the utility primarily by:
- reducing costs associated with stormwater management;
- by generating scope 2 GHG credits for every litre of drinking water not produced, piped, and returned for treatment;
- and by creating resilience against pluvial (urban piped drainage) flooding.
When every property is tied to the rain grid the whole city benefits well beyond what an ad hoc, privately purchased, operated, and maintained program can achieve
WT: Tell us about your Pilot Projects.
Mercer: Since its inception in 2014, RainGrid has undertaken proof of concept and demonstration pilots in several cities in Canada and the USA. Our first proof of concept was in Oakville, Ontario followed in 2016 by 30 installations for the Riverdale Rain CAP Pilot; two for the Waterloo Green Community; the Collingwood Smart Stormwater Pilot Project;Glen Waye Condominiums in Silver Spring, MD, and the community rain barrel program, Green Light New Orleans.
Along with testing various sensors, communications and power arrays, the primary lesson we learned from our extensive demonstration pilots has been one of ensuring that maintenance agreements are key to the operational continuity of intelligent cisterns on either commercial or residential properties.
We have expanded the company’s business model to encompass a design, build, operate and maintain contractual practice to ensure the longevity of the positive outcomes property-based rainfall retention achieves.
WT: Moving forward...what’s next?
Mercer: Our plans are to raise additional capital to complete our existing projects in the USA and Canada, with expansion into India, Europe, and Latin America.
Beyond that, we are focused on canvassing the globe for a city or property-development firm committed to demonstrating its commitment to making a difference in urban rainfall resilience.
To chart this path forward, we are engaging a “big tent collaborative” of water utilities, cities, climate tech firms, the WEF and top-level global NGOs, through the Global Commons Initiative, and the 50 Liter Home Initiative.
WT: How can global communities get ahead of the storm?
Mercer: The circular path to clean water and climate resilience begins by reusing rain where it falls. This path integrates resilience into our communities. The co-benefits are improved human health and wellness, decreased urban heat island effect, habitat creation, and increased property values.