Leaks in water networks are one of the biggest challenges water utilities are facing, to combat this, many utilities are setting ambitious targets. But how achievable are they and how are utilities planning on meeting them?
We live in the age of targets, whether they are being set by the United Nations to meet water Sustainability Development Goals by 2030 or if they are being set by water utilities to pivot their operations towards greater water reuse by so many per cent.
A target looks great in a press release and posted on social media, but just how achievable are these targets and are they too ambitious?
One area of the water sector where ambitious targets are being set is in leak reduction by water utilities. Severn Trent has set the target of reducing the leaks in its networks by 15 per cent come 2025 and are aiming to raise that to 50 per cent come 2045.
South West Water has said it will be investing £50 million into leak reduction as it too seeks to further reduce leaks in its networks.
Affinity Water has achieved a reduction of 15 per cent by using state of the art technology and data capture to fix leaks with its catchment.
While these reductions are certainly a step in the right direction there is still a way to go to achieve the Public Interest Commitments (PIC) targets set in 2019 to triple the rate of leakage reduction by 2030.
Leak detection and management have come a long way in recent decades with the dawn of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and smart pumps and pipes allowing for an endless stream of real-time data – and water companies are now starting to test the waters of how this technology can help achieve ambitious leak reduction targets.
Back in 2020, United Utilities turned to AI to help track down leaks.
Affinity Water has achieved a reduction of 15 per cent by using state of the art technology and data capture to fix leaks with its catchment, as the utility looks to get to 20 per cent by 2050.
But one company has turned to next-generation technology to achieve its targets.
Technology changing the game
SES Water supplies 160 million litres of clean water to more than 735,000 customers, with 85 per cent of its water supply coming from the deep aquifers in the chalk of the North Downs in the UK.
Seeking to cut its leakage by 15 per cent and its per capita consumption by seven per cent, SES Water also needed to scalable solution to cover its entire supply.
Sian Evans, network lead strategy analyst at SES Water said: “We needed to minimise water wasted to ensure we can continue to provide water to all [our customers] and safeguard the natural environment for the future.”
SES Water turned to Royal HaskoningDHV Digital (RHDHV Digital), for its BURST reduction solution which detects, localises and monitors leaks at an early stage.
“With increasing urbanisation and climate change, water utilities are coming under ever-increasing pressure to meet changing and increasing demand from water consumers.”
After consulting with analysts and getting feedback from customers within SES Water’s network who had reported leaks, the company decided to trail the BURST by RHDHV Digital.
BURST by RHDHV Digital was able to locate leaks and bursts by monitoring the behaviour of drinking water systems and the condition of underground pipes and send a notification to the leakage manager to fix the leak.
Moreover, the system is continuously learning so it was better equipped to detect anomalies within the network to reduce false alarms and predict when a leak is about to occur.
Tom Woolley, head of business development Royal HaskoningDHV Digital, told Aquatech Online: “With increasing urbanisation and climate change, water utilities are coming under ever-increasing pressure to meet changing and increasing demand from water consumers.
BURST helps utilities to ensure that as much of their extracted water as possible reaches their customers – improving efficiency but, more importantly, ensuring this scarce resource is used as carefully as possible.”
On the right track
Although SES Water might just be one example of how new technology is helping water utilities achieve their leak reduction targets, it is clear that the rest of the water sector believes that AI, machine learning and Digital Twins are going to become valuable assets in the war on leaks.
While the sector looks to set to adopt and trial more systems like BURST from RHDHV Digital, collaboration will also play a key role as water utilities look to achieve their ambitious targets, but new innovative technology is certainly making these goals look achievable.
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