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Meeting AMP7 leakage targets

Damian Crawford, head of smart networks & leakage at Stantec, discusses how becoming data-rich and knowledge-smart can help the industry meet AMP7 leakage targets.

South East Water smart water network case study

South East Water delivered the UK’s first smart water network to understand which latest technologies could be implemented to help it meet the challenging AMP7 regulatory leakage and other ODI targets. The project embraced the latest innovation utilising a combined analytical machine learning visualisation platform and the latest sensor technology utilising both 3G, 4G, fixed network and NBIoT communications. This pioneering project has brought together nine specialist companies in their respective fields to test the latest cutting-edge digital water meters, sensors and advanced analytics. This is the first time that data from all these differing technologies has been successfully combined into one central ‘data lake’ for analysis.

The smart water network trial has provided invaluable information to inform South East Water’s strategy on smart networks and sensor asset strategy including future smart meter selection and deployment strategy. A smart network can improve how water companies deal with incidents through:


  • Pre-interventions
  • Faster identification and response, and improved customer interaction
  • Prioritisation management – escalate priority for a repair based on changing characteristics
  • Improved forecasting of the length and consequence of an incident – for better targeting of emergency response
  • Improved messaging and updating of customers
  • Improved customer demand data – customer event prediction (such as freeze/thaw)
  • Potential two-way communication offered by modern sensors and comms networks
  • Wakeup all sensors in an incident and start readings
  • Adjust sensor sensitivity and parameters dynamically
  • Potential automation of simpler activities.

The UK water industry stands at a precipice. Never before has it been under such political and regulatory scrutiny, leaving water companies with two clear options going forward: either carry out damage limitation or embrace the challenges and innovate.

Ofwat has set very challenging expectations, as most of the industry is required to reduce leakage by 15 per cent or more by 2025. However, the UK Government believes this target for water companies is not ambitious enough. Instead, it believes Ofwat should be setting a long-term target for water companies to reduce leakage with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee pushing to achieve a 50 per cent leakage reduction by 2040. This is supported by customers who expect leakage reduction to be a top priority, especially as they are being individually challenged to reduce water usage to help conserve resources and minimise damage to the environment.

If this challenge was not big enough, Ofwat has made it clear following PR19 draft determination, that the industry must achieve its leakage targets for little-to-no extra money or face significant penalties. This is concurrent with the ongoing challenge to reduce operational base costs and significantly reduce bursts and supply interruption or risk facing further penalties.

How do they square this circle? Some companies may feel it is nigh on impossible and all they can do is not fail too badly. However, after 25 years in the water industry, it is my belief this should be an awakening; a realisation by the industry that we can’t keep doing the same old things in the same way. But what can we do differently? Ofwat has made it clear that the solution lies in innovation. 

Innovation is about creating a culture and environment that allows for significant changes to systems and processes. In collaboration with our partners, Stantec employs the use of digital tools to facilitate bottom-up innovation. We also recognise the importance of encouraging and empowering all staff to develop ideas, again helping to foster an environment that facilitates innovation.


Problems with the past and current model

Historically, the three pillars of leakage reduction have been active leakage control, pressure management and mains rehabilitation. However, each of these areas have their challenges:

Active leakage control

Dependent on the business model, active leakage control can drive the wrong behaviours. In particular, it can lead to a lot of time being spent detecting low quality leaks, resulting in costly repairs impacting the burst rate and supply interruptions. This problem is further exacerbated by the crippling shortage of skilled leakage detection personnel.

Pressure management

Most companies have mature pressure management strategies and have exhausted further leakage reductions, with the focus now being on optimisation through network reconfiguration and advanced control systems. However, less focus has been put on pressure management at source, which could deliver both leakage and operational budget savings through economies of scale and by reducing condition-based monitoring and maintenance costs.

Mains rehabilitation

Currently, the industry is split on whether mains rehabilitation provides genuine leakage reduction or, as more commonly suggested, it prevents the natural rate of rise. However, most companies have mature mains rehabilitation programmes and have already targeted the low hanging fruit which had the best cost-to-benefit ratio – be that expected leakage saving, reduction in bursts per km, increased resilience or reduction in WQ incidents. The challenge has always been the leakage or resilience benefit against the cost and disruption, while considering the impact of poor installation practices, and the sense that mains are being replaced despite having significant life left in them.


Solutions for the future

The industry needs to think differently; to think smarter with the focus being on network asset health, customer side leakage management and smart water networks:

Network asset health

Network asset health is about taking a more holistic approach by using well-established asset management assessments, such as the Common Framework for Capital Maintenance Planning. This is founded on risk-based principles, so that in most cases capital maintenance will be justified on the current and future probability of asset failure and the resultant consequences for customers, the environment and water service providers, including the costs arising.

Hydraulic modelling can then be utilised, along with field-collected pressure transient and water quality data and non-evasive pipe condition analysis to understand the health of the network and understand whether there is an underlying reason causing bursts, pressure irregularities or water quality incidents. This information can be used to inform an intervention strategy to optimise and calm the network. This could be achieved by removing harmful pressure transients caused by pumping, PRVs, PSVs, network restrictions or large users and introducing advanced pressure management and network reconfiguration to improve reticulation or targeted mains replacement.

Customer side leakage

Customer side leakage has been shown in studies to account for 30 per cent of leakage. However, this can only be realised using smart water meters delivering a minimum of hourly reads and due to the cost of roll-out, this would need to be done through a targeted approach, focusing on areas of high leakage and low burst rates. Fortunately, the widespread introduction of NBIoT and 5G have provided a great opportunity to roll out smart meters without the need for costly infrastructure and licensed fixed network solutions. Simply understanding which customer has a leak does not deliver leakage savings. Companies must have a robust repair and enforcement policy which allows the prioritisation of leaks to minimise repair cycle times, the management of which can be done through an integrated smart water network.

Smart water network solutions

Smart water network solutions integrate the rich data from multiple new and existing sources and present it in a single visualisation platform. Using machine learning and AI, clustering data sets and removing false positives, this informs asset and operational decision making. An example would be combining acoustic and transient loggers with smart revenue and district meter flow data so analysts can identify a leak and understand the customer and leakage impact. This would enable analysts to prioritise the repair instantly, saving on detection costs and low value leak repairs. It also allows for instantaneous mass balances to determine real leakage levels to improve targeting by understanding what usage is and what is main side or customer side leakage.

Developing a Smart Water Network and matching the correct sensors for the network is the only way water companies can deliver the leakage target in AMP7. We need to move away from being data-rich and knowledge-poor to data-rich and knowledge-smart. At Stantec, we have experience of supporting our clients in adopting smart network solutions across the five layers of smart architecture, based upon their business drivers. These range from designing the physical asset layer through to developing data analytics to support the desired business outcomes.

Topic: Leaks & bursts , Policy & Regulation
Tags: water companies , Innovation , leakage , PR19


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