Sewer flooding in the UK is a major issue. In 2018, over 3,200 properties were internally flooded by sewers causing millions of pounds worth of damage. Outside sewer flooding occurs when sewage or foul water leaks from pipes, drains or manholes and internal flooding is when, in a building, the sewage floods up through toilets, sinks or showers.
Ofwat imposes fines on the water companies for exceeding the allowed number of sewer flooding incidents. Each incident can cost a utility company over £40,000, so detecting and resolving blockages that lead to floods is important both for property owners and the utility sector.
Now, a new technology recently patented by Amey Consulting in the UK, and undergoing trials with the Water Research Council, aims to tackle the problem. The technology is based on capacitive sensors (the same technology which is used in smartphone screens) to detect the depth and speed of the flow in the pipe. Analysis of the data picked up by the sensors is used to assess where blockages are and to predict the likelihood of flooding so that utility companies can take preventative action. The key advantage of this technology is its extremely low power consumption, combined with the use of cloud processing, that gathers insight from data across the whole sewer network rather than from individual sensors.
Commenting, Charles Oldham, Head of Strategic Consulting, Amey, said: "Amey Consulting is working closely with our clients and partners to solve the problem of sewer blockages that lead to flooding, a situation that is exacerbated by our increasingly wetter weather. This is an exciting technology that if piloted successfully with our utility clients in 2020, could have further applications across large estates such as airports, cities that are impacted by being on or close to a flood plain or for local authorities trying to manage highways flooding."
The data captured from the sensors will be communicated to the cloud via a mobile network operator at regular intervals. This enables utility companies, using a data analytics platform, to predict and take preventative action on sewer floods. For connectivity of the project at the current trial stage, Amey Consulting is using the next-generation NB-IoT technology, which is specifically designed for this type of application. The next stage is a pilot programme with utility companies and, if these are successful, Amey Consulting will work to commercialise the technology and expand it outside the UK.
Research and development work on the technology was undertaken by Amey Consulting, led by Dr. Stephen Gooberman-Hill and co-inventors Dr. Michele Gaio and Dr. Vergil Yotov. The team drew on the expertise of the Amey Utilities business and the project was supported and funded by Amey Investments.