q&a with southern waters chris lumb
Utilities Digital Solutions Europe

Q&A interview with Southern Water’s Chris Lumb

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Southern Water’s head of water asset strategy, Chris Lumb, discusses integrating sensors in water and wastewater networks, as well as driving actionable insights from the utility’s data.

Christopher Lumb is the head of water asset strategy and planning for UK utility, Southern Water, which serves 4.6 million customers. The organisation’s asset base includes 89 water treatment works, 365 wastewater treatment works and 2,375 pumping stations across three English counties.

Lumb has the accountability to develop short, medium and long-term plans to meet the needs of customers, regulators and the environment. He says this role involves “continuously balancing cost, risk and performance”.

Ahead of a Sensors for Water Interest Group (SWIG) webinar in early February featuring Lumb, Aquatech Online had the chance to interview him about integrating sensors in water and wastewater networks, as well as driving actionable insights from the utility’s data.

Aquatech Online: How do you see the evolution to smart water networks?

Chris Lumb (CL): I believe the environment now exists to incentivise the creation of smart networks. There is a move to much tighter performance targets, such as the minimum 15 per cent leakagereduction over the seventh asset management period (AMP7), not to mention the 50 per cent challenge by 2040. 

Combined with the reducing costs of "smart" technologies, this will drive companies to adopt smart networks. This will see a gradual transition from issue focussed SME-led approaches using machine learning as a tool, gradually advancing to a fully autonomous control environment by the mid to late 2030s.

AO: The fully autonomous network sounds ambitious and exciting. Yet, some pundits have said in a rush to collect more data, we’re in danger of reaching “data obesity”. Do we need more sensors to be deployed across water networks?

CL: Sensors only give us benefit if we do something with the data that we receive. The majority of water companies are very data-rich already, but struggle to drive actionable insight from their data.

My view is that smart networks are more about analysis and insight than the deployment of more sensors. Indeed, more capable and versatile multi-parameter sensors are what interests us to minimise TOTEX (total costs), while maximising insights.

AO: So more sensors are not necessarily needed! However, with different sensors continued to be developed and adopted, how do we ensure solution interoperability and combine data from other providers for added asset insight on networks?

CL: Having the right analytical platform is key. As the network operator, we need to combine the data from different sensors and providers into a single package that gives us actionable insight. For us, this means ensuring compatibility with our Network Management System and Enterprise Asset Management system to ensure we always have one version of the truth.

AO: Interesting - it’s also been called the ‘single source of truth’ as well. Drinking water networks have seen the most significant application of sensors and more data generated. In light of chasing leakage targets, is water quality measuring being neglected and why?

CL: At Southern Water, we have recently trialled a leading water quality monitoring approach within one of our zones. This has provided some unique insight into the way our network was operating and the causes of some of our discolouration contacts. Our view is that water quality monitoring within the network will become more prevalent over the coming AMPs and is intrinsic to the calm network approach we are adopting.

AO: How do you see the development of "smart sewers"? There seem to be fewer solutions available and development on this side of the market for some time – why?

CL: My view is that "smart sewers" will see significant development over the coming years. The ever-increasing desire to minimise our impact on the environment, coupled with increasing housing growth is creating the demand for novel solutions that maximise capacity without having to replace large lengths of pipelines. 

AO: Can you talk about the potential opportunities for 5G enabled solutions and integration into the water networks?

CL: We see a diverse eco-system of communication technologies as vital to the future evolution of water networks, this includes narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and Category M1 (CATM1) communications for certain applications. Beyond this, we are also looking at the impacts of NB-IoTv2 and more pervasive (and indeed disruptive) IoT technologies of the future.

- More information on the SWIG webinar, entitled ‘Integrating data from sensors in water & wastewater networks’, can be found here

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