[Blog] Harnessing Data to Meet Regulatory Targets

The scale of leak reduction required by water companies in England and Wales is accelerating the adoption new solutions, with smart technology having a vital role to play, says David Frost, chief executive, Ovarro. 

Around 21% of water put into the public supply in England and Wales is lost and with climate change and an increasing population leading to widespread water stress, pressure on water companies to plug leaks has never been greater. Many have set themselves much tougher targets than the 16% by 2025 imposed by regulator Ofwat. 

In England, the Water UK Public Interest Commitment pledges to triple the rates of leakage reduction by 2030, while UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) is exploring how the UK can achieve zero leakage by 2050. 

It is Ofwat’s current policy that customers should not pay extra costs through their water bills and with an ageing distribution network becoming ever more prone to leaks and bursts, it is clear water utilities cannot continue to do what they have always done and deliver on their commitments. 

A different approach is now needed and Ofwat expects companies in PR24 (2025-2030) to “maximise their use of data and digitalisation to keep pace with the digital transformation of the wider economy”. 

The good news is internet of things (IoT) is reshaping automation, engineering and infrastructure globally and for the water industry, the installation of multiple cost-effective leak detection devices makes capturing real-time operational data much easier. 

By harnessing and transmitting this wealth of newly available data, companies can carry out strategic operational analysis to drive efficiencies and reduce cost - the report Funding Approaches for Leakage Reduction, written by PWC on behalf of Ofwat, says the “the cost of further reducing leakage is constantly evolving as new technology is made available, and this could drive down the cost of leakage reduction in the future”. 

Acoustic loggers that can pinpoint leaks by measuring the sound generated by water escaping the network are front-of-field - immersed acoustic hydrophone sensors, that in essence “listen” to soundwaves inside the pipe to pinpoint leaks. 

Ovarro has been working closely with UK utilities on the roll-out of a multi-point noise correlation system, the award-winning Enigma3hyQ. The updated Enigma3-BB, launched in 2021, allows device to be installed directly into an operational meter box chamber – a first for the industry with this type of technology.

Elsewhere, smart meters, fibre optic cables, satellite technology and even drones are also providing alternative leak-detection solutions for utilities in some scenarios. 

The ability of utilities to gather more reliable data in these ways will undoubtedly lead to faster decision-making and repairs, but all parts of the business must have their house in order - leaking pipes must ultimately be repaired and replaced, and civil engineering will always play a part. Similarly, customer engagement and communications will continue to be key and water companies must be seen to lead from the front if they are asking customers to join them in taking responsibility for water stewardship. 

Water companies can help themselves further by ensuring procurement processes enable quicker adoption of new technology and setting up specialist data management teams to review the increasing amount of incoming data, so it can bring maximum value to the business. By adopting and sharing improved processes, water companies can succeed and have the positive environmental impact that is expected by customers and the regulator.