From within the network to out in space – data will transform water services

Chris Elliot, Business Director, Water North
19 July 2019
Image of an engineering room.
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The water sector is primed to undergo fundamental change over the next few years. With our anticipated population growth comes increased demand for water, which relies on infrastructure that is often a century old. Climate change looks set to upset our current models of supply and demand, as the Met Office predicts reduced river flows in the summer and increased winter flooding in the future.

Add to this the fact that customers continue to expect excellent service without significant bill rises and one thing is clear: the water industry will simply have to transform under the stress of these powerful drivers.

Better preventive tools will be crucial for the sector, as it strives to meet these challenges, including tools focusing on flood prevention. It is estimated that 3.3 billion litres of water are lost each day in England and Wales through leaks in infrastructure. Going forward, this can’t be tolerated with increased demand and weather-related volatility. Efficiency will be everything.

Remote sensors monitoring water flow are increasingly being deployed. Connecting to the internet of things, they allow the collection of real time data. This can lead to much faster detection of leaks in pipes, which alerts engineers sooner to mitigate the consequences of flooding.

Working with our Strategic Consulting Team, we are currently exploring this technology while partnering with our water sector clients to conduct trials that could mean effective flood prevention becomes a reality much sooner than many people realise.

Data gathered from within the water supply system is one area. But we are also now exploring how data gathered from hundreds of miles above earth can also help. New algorithms can now interpret satellite radar images that reveal tiny changes in ground motion that affect waste and clean water networks. It’s an exciting new approach, which we hope could offer a fresh way of anticipating network problems.

Water is clearly one of our most basic needs, although it’s true that the supply of it to homes is somewhat taken for granted. With fresh challenges arising as society and the environment adapts, and new technology emerging that demands further exploration, the industry is under pressure to keep pace with change. Ultimately, people simply expect water to flow from their taps, regardless of the wider context.

Two key weapons in the industry’s armoury going forward are innovation and investment. By dedicating budgets and time to finding solutions to emerging issues, we should be confident that we can, as a sector, navigate a path to meet customers’ future expectations.

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