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Using data to improve leakage across the water network

PUBLISHED: 14:12 14 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:12 14 August 2019

Anglian Water engineer installing a hydrophone  Picture: Anglian Water

Anglian Water engineer installing a hydrophone Picture: Anglian Water

TIM GEORGE

How can a growing amount of data be used to reduce leakage from water networks?, asks Anglian Water's data manager David Jacobs, ahead of next month's 'Innovate East' innovation event.

Anglian Water has industry low leakage levels but is striving to cut water loss further 

Picture: RACHEL EDGEAnglian Water has industry low leakage levels but is striving to cut water loss further Picture: RACHEL EDGE

The region's largest water company, Anglian Water, is an industry leader in combatting leakage, outperforming its counterparts on a regular basis. The business has cut leakage across its pipe network by a third since 1989 but is always thriving to get even better at it?

Just how this might be achieved will be a key theme at a major innovation event to be held in East Anglia next month.

The three-day event, called Innovate East, has been organised by Anglian Water in partnership with Essex & Suffolk Water, who together hope to create an exciting environment where attendees will be encouraged to unlock new ways of thinking.

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Anglian Water workers Picture: Anglian WaterAnglian Water workers Picture: Anglian Water

The aim of the event, which is due to be held at Trinity Park Showground in Ipswich between September 10 and 12 2019, is to address some of the major challenges that water companies and other large organisations are facing, such as water scarcity, climate change, protecting the environment and delivering for customers.

Some of the most creative minds from industry and beyond are due to take part in a number of 'sprints' and 'hackathons' designed to brainstorm ideas and test if they are viable in the real world - all within a few days.

According to Anglian Water's data manager David Jacobs, among the main themes, attendees will be invited to explore two areas relating to leak management. A hack will focus on how water companies can use their data to identify the whereabouts of leaks quicker than they currently do. Meanwhile, the sprint session will encourage people to contribute to a discussion on how leakage management could be transformed using learnings from other sectors and industries?

Fit for purpose

Leaks across a water pipe network can be caused by a number of factors: aging pipes made from cast iron or PVC can corrode or become brittle; third party damage can occur while carrying out building or road works and warm weather can dry the ground, especially East Anglia's clay soil, causing movement and cracks in pipes.

David Jacobs, data manager at Anglian WaterDavid Jacobs, data manager at Anglian Water

Anglian Water's leakage rate currently stands at an impressive industry-low of 5m³ per km of pipe or 16% of water put into the network, but says Mr Jacobs, there are a number of factors that mean it is vital that the company works hard to push this figure even lower.

"The East of England is already the driest part of the UK and because of climate change we expect there to be less water in the environment in years to come," he said.

"Added to this, it is likely water companies will not be able to extract as much water in the future because of environmental concerns, while there is also demand for an additional million extra properties across East Anglia over the next 25 years, all wanting access to water."

Mr Jacobs added: "While there will be some work to add new pipes to the network, reducing leakage is a key element of being fit for purpose in the future."

New technologies

A noise logger that sits in water pipes and can detect leaks quicker that sensors that have been used before      Picture: Anglian WaterA noise logger that sits in water pipes and can detect leaks quicker that sensors that have been used before Picture: Anglian Water

Over the past 30 years, Anglian Water has typically used sensors across its network to identify where leaks are located. The number of sensors is set to increase exponentially as the cost of the technology comes down. Sensors are used to calculate the typical daily usage within a set area, known in the industry as a district metered area (DMA), and from this figure leakage levels can be estimated.

In recent times, new technologies have been installed by the company on parts of its network to fine tune the leakage identification process. One effective piece of kit is a hydrophone, a technology first developed for submarines, which is placed in the water and can detect leaks by sound.

"It's a game changer for us," said Mr Jacobs, "When a new leak happens, we can hear it as soon as it happens, rather than identifying it after a couple of weeks when the leak has built up."

A second piece of cutting edge equipment changing the way Anglian Water works logs the pressure of the water flow in pipes, incredibly recording data at more than 100 times per second. Pressure might change in water pipes if pumps or valves are faulty or operated incorrectly or if a commercial water user extracts a large amount of water in one go. Big swings in water pressure are not healthy for pipes, as they can weaken them, so recording this information can be used to identify where repairs need to be made or customers trained about water use best practice.

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Anglian Water worker installing  a noise loggerAnglian Water worker installing a noise logger

Diverse range of inputs

While effective, these technologies are currently not widespread, and the hack at Innovate East will look to explore the benefits of combining data from the different sensor sources.

Mr Jacobs explained: "We want to see if we can take the data from our new equipment and line it up against our existing flow measurement points, to see if we can we identify trends and signatures to enable us to build a better model for identifying leaks."

When it comes to the sprint, Mr Jacobs hopes the event will attract data science experts, not just from other water companies or related sectors such as oil and gas , but from industries far removed from utilities, like retail or logistics.

He added: "It may be that how one organisation uses data to manage their mobile workforce or to schedule teams as quickly as possible is applicable to the work we do and that there are parallels we can draw on.

Anglian Water borehole drilling  Picture: 

Matthew Power PhotographyAnglian Water borehole drilling Picture: Matthew Power Photography

"What we are looking for is a diverse range of inputs that we hope will come together to offer us some very useful results."

More announcements on Innovate East will be made over the coming weeks. You can register your interest in the event and find out more at innovateeast.org.uk

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