Utility Week

UTILITY Week 4th August 2017

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24 | 4TH - 10TH AUGUST 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Operations & Assets Analysis O fwat has expressed in no uncertain terms that it wants the water indus- try to be more innovative. Its focus on this requirement began in earnest in PR14, when it started tracking company outputs and asked companies to show that they were ready to innovate to improve customer value. In PR19, this pressure will only increase. Notwithstanding this, Ofwat has steered clear of supplying the innovation funds and mechanisms that water companies' counter- parts in the energy sector enjoy. And for a variety of reasons, the water sector has his- torically found it difficult to demonstrate to critics that they can be ambitious when it comes to generating ideas. The word "innovation" is littered through- out Ofwat's PR19 dra methodology how- ever. Indeed, it is one of four core themes that tie together the proposed framework for the price control. Across the sector, com- panies are mobilising to respond, working closely with third parties, investing in tools and technologies, and hosting events that bring together a variety of perspectives. Northumbrian Water's week-long inno- vation festival, run in early July, is a case in point. The event brought together industry figures, regulator representatives and mem- bers of the public to address some of the major challenges facing the industry. Five challenges were chosen for a series of co-ordinated design sprints: flooding; leak- age; future-proofing infrastructure; improv- ing the environment; and managing mobile workforces. Delegates brainstormed ideas for solutions and a shortlist was selected for further development throughout the week. Technologies, such as fibre optics and artificial intelligence, were found to have great potential to improve infrastructure and allow bespoke communication, thus improv- ing customer service. And sharing informa- tion and infrastructure was discussed as a way to prepare for future challenges such as the effects of climate change and increased demand on resources. A two-day data analysis operation, led by Microso, was run alongside the design sprints. The "hackathon" sought to find new ways of identifying and mitigating problems in a more cost-effective manner. A team of 60 data scientists spent two days crunching 4.5GB of data from sources including leak- age information, road traffic statistics, and Second World War bombing records (unex- ploded devices are still a common problem). Using analysts with no attachment to the water industry meant Northumbrian ben- efited from a fresh perspective on its opera- tional and strategic challenges and was able to look dispassionately at the data without preconceived ideas. "There is definitely something about col- laboration that is really important to doing innovation well. We have talked quite a bit recently about the importance of collabora- tion both within and beyond the industry," said Ofwat director of strategy and policy Carl Pheasey, who attended the event. "The really good innovative ideas come out when you get people from very different backgrounds and frames of reference com- ing together and trying to take a fresh look at how to solve long-standing problems." Fostering innovation in water Northumbrian Water held a week-long innovation festival last month where stakeholders could meet to address ways of taking the water sector forward. Utility Week was there. Case study: leakage The water industry reduced leakage consider- ably in the late 1990s. However, since 2000, levels have declined at a much slower rate in Wales and have stabilised in England. Nationally, more than 20 per cent of all pota- ble water produced is lost and wasted during distribution. Leakage is therefore a major issue facing the industry. As such, Ofwat has vowed to take a much tougher line on it in PR19, and expects companies to "look much harder" at how they can reduce leakage. While surface leaks are simple to identify and repair because they are visible, leaks below the surface pose a bigger challenge. The overall focus of one of the "sprints" at Northumbrian Water's innovation festival was to create a practical application of new or revised analytics and intelligence systems, and then consider how these could augment exist- ing leakage detection systems. Delegates were tasked with finding new methods for supporting more effective leakage detection, improving and extending current methods and collaborating on new system and hardware ideas. The design sprint ran in tandem with a large-scale data analysis project in which multi- ple streams of data were scrutinised by experts from Microso. The solution The sprint produced several ideas that could provide viable improvements to the detection and mitigation of leaks. Technology was very much in the spotlight, as delegates discussed the possibility of a dedicated mobile app to allow the public to report leaks with greater accuracy, by using geo-location settings. Another suggested application of technol- ogy was to develop an intelligent system that allowed water companies to more effectively monitor their infrastructure, highlighting deterioration before leaks occurred. One of the major findings of the data analy- sis showed that by focusing on specific district metered areas, companies could identify ways to reduce overall leakage. These images show different views of a section of pipe network. The different colours represent different characteristics of the pipes (diameter, pipe material, age). The user can toggle between different views of the network, or stack them with other layers such as ground condition. The ability to add layers of open source information to Northumbrian Water's GIS system data enables a greater understanding of "hotspot areas" where the impact of external influences can increase leakage.

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