Tackling water scarcity with digital technologies

Tackling water scarcity with digital technologies

Acoustic loggers and cloud-based software swiftly identify water leaks

Targets in the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan for England include that water companies must help minimise the amount of water lost through leakage, year on year. Water companies are expected to reduce leakage by at least an average of 15 per cent by 2025 — but how is this achievable when 21 per cent of water supply is still being lost to leaks? Here, David Frost, CEO of Ovarro, explores why innovative water management approaches are needed urgently, and how the internet of things (IoT) can play a pivotal role.

The ongoing 25 Year Environment Plan exists against a backdrop of increasingly alarming water statistics. For instance, the United Nations predicts that, by 2025, 1.8 billion people — nearly one in four on the planet — will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity. Nearly 703 million people currently lack access to clean drinking water.

But, if we consider that England and Wales’ water companies are losing 21 per cent of water supply to leaks, how can such a commitment work? First, we must understand the multifaceted challenges that are contributing to the high leakage rates.

Ageing infrastructure stands out as a prominent issue. Some pipes date back more than a century, and environmental factors like freeze-thaw cycles further stress the ageing pipes, which leads to increased leaks. Meanwhile, an increasing population and urbanisation mean that demand for water often outstrips supply.

Looking elsewhere in the supply chain

How can water companies overcome these challenges? One answer is a paradigm shift towards technology-driven solutions, emphasising the critical role of the Internet of Things (IoT) and data utilisation to modernise water management practices.

Traditional management methods, like manual inspections, are no longer sufficient to tackle the scale of the problem. Instead, water companies must leverage IoT technologies, like acoustic loggers, which enable proactive leak detection with more precise localisation and an optimised use of resources.

However, certain obstacles stand in the way. Many water companies are used to traditional working methods. This can result in a hesitancy or resistance to adopting new technologies, which is understandable, as any change invites risk. However, this hesitancy also slows down the implementation of these solutions when swift action is needed to meet regulatory targets. Lack of investment is a further obstacle, as limited funds hinder the adoption of IoT systems.
Water companies also have differing approaches to technology adoption, which creates a fragmented approach across industry. Stringent regulatory frameworks add further complexity, which means new systems can frequently get ‘held-up’ at the piloting and trialling phase.

However, rather than spending such significant time trialling and piloting these new technologies, water companies can adopt proven solutions from the supply chain. Let’s look at an example of this approach in action.

Swiftly identifying leak repairs

Thames Water serves over 15 million customers in London and the Thames Valley and is a critical part of the UK’s infrastructure, responsible for delivering clean water and treating wastewater. However, the company was losing millions of litres of water daily due to leaks. To resolve these issues, the company actively invested in technology, including acoustic loggers capable of detecting leaks by listening for the sound of escaping water.

To this end, Thames Water turned to Ovarro’s LeakNavigator service to meet its ambitious leakage targets. The LeakNavigator solution incorporates advanced acoustic loggers and cloud-based software to swiftly identifies potential leaks, enabling timely repairs. Acoustic logger devices include Ovarro’s Enigma3hyQ. These devices employ sophisticated algorithms to detect subtle noise patterns that indicate leaks in underground pipes. The focus is on delivering tangible results.

Within 20 weeks of implementation, 788 leaks were detected, saving 5.78 megalitres of water daily across targeted areas. By continuously monitoring the network and analysing data in real-time, Thames Water can swiftly identify and prioritise leak repairs, mitigating water loss, minimising environmental impact and meeting ambitious leakage targets. This is supported by Ovarro’s ongoing data analysis and collaboration with Thames Water’s partners.

With ambitious targets set by regulators, and the “high expectations” set by Water UK’s Public Interest Commitment, there is a pressing need for cooperation to implement innovative solutions effectively. The collaboration between Thames Water and Ovarro demonstrates how partnerships and technology-driven approaches can swiftly and effectively deploy leak detection technologies to tackle water scarcity.

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