It is clear that 'business as usual' is not going to be sufficient to deliver on water companies' commitments to cut leaks and bursts. Fortunately, industrial IoT technology can offer some answers, as Anglian Water and leak detection specialist Ovarro demonstrate in an award-winning project.

Leakage remains one of the biggest concerns for the water industry – around 21% of water put into the public supply in England and Wales is lost. With climate change and an increasing population leading to widespread water stress, pressure on water companies to plug leaks has never been greater.

In setting a tough 16% leakage reduction target for the 2020-25 AMP7 period, Ofwat is expecting companies to adopt new techniques to tackle the problem – but imposing no extra costs on customers. Meanwhile, UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) is looking even further ahead by asking how we achieve zero leakage by 2050?

Plugging leaking pipes is a huge, expensive problem

Fortunately, on today’s water network, multiple cost-effective leak detection devices can be installed, making 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.

Finding a sensor solution
Sheffield-based Ovarro is a global, innovation-driven leak detection specialist; its research and development team works closely with utilities to develop best-in-class technologies. Ovarro has partnered with Anglian Water to develop a revolutionary remote leak detection device, called Enigma3hyQ, which links to a cloud-based data platform, PrimeWeb.

Anglian Water approached Ovarro in 2017 with an idea to adapt existing technology by combining two products – a correlating noise logger and a site-based hydrophone.

A collaborative development team was established with experts from both organisations to create the Enigma3hyQ system’s hardware and software elements, including a workflow management app and PrimeWeb, a cloud-based data collection and analytics platform for monitoring pressure and flow and pinpointing leaks.

An example of best practice in collaboration between utilities and suppliers, the project was recognised at the Water Industry Awards in May 2021, where it was named Alliancing and Partnership Initiative of the Year.

The science bit
Enigma3hyQ loggers use immersed acoustic hydrophone sensors that “listen” to sound waves inside the pipe to pinpoint leaks. The fixed devices return data, via 3G mobile networks or GPRS, to PrimeWeb to be analysed by utility leakage teams. The data is accessible remotely, allowing users to quickly identify problems such as exceptional usage or low pressure, with PrimeWeb generating greater insights.

Fitting an Enigma noise logger to a box in Newmarket Suffolk.

A UK-patented mathematical correlation technique is fundamental to the operation of Enigma3hyQ. In event of a leak between two loggers, the noise emitted takes a measurable amount of time to reach each logger. A set of digital signal processing algorithms correlates the two recordings to determine the time difference between the sounds.

Along with the speed of sound in the pipe and the distance between the loggers, this is used to calculate the exact location of the leak. The system synchronises daily to ensure precision. This level of accuracy was not possible via traditional acoustic detection, while fixed network options were considered cost prohibitive.

The sensors are also effective in finding leaks over long distances and inside plastic pipes. Historically, detecting leaks from within plastic pipes has been a challenge for the sector, as they do not transmit noise when they leak.

The technology has been called a game changer by Anglian Water’s smart water strategy manager Andy Smith, who said: “We very much created the technology together. We didn’t want to just accept what was on offer, we wanted to collaborate to drive for the best solution for the challenge we faced.”

Getting the right results
The technology is delivering multiple benefits for Anglian Water. Between April 2018 and January 2021, the system found 6,783 leaks on its network, making it three times more efficient than traditional detection techniques. On average, Anglian Water sees a 1:1 ratio of leaks found to points of interest issued.

Being able to precisely pinpoint leaks has multiple benefits for utilities. They can monitor networks continuously and in real-time, meaning that response rates improve, thereby reducing customer complaints and the risk of regulatory fines. More importantly, Anglian Water’s leakage reduction strategy is linked to its water resource management plan and securing of future resilience.

Improving leak management also improves water quality and network pressure, which could reduce pumping costs. Operational costs are saved as fewer leakage teams are required in the field and there is less above-ground disruption.

Meanwhile, utilities’ customers benefit as more efficient management of the network should bring down costs, which could be reflected in bills. Most critically, reducing water loss makes supplies more resilient.

Traditionally, innovative companies come up with a solution and try to sell into UK water companies. The limits are that the technology supplier does not necessarily know the utility’s precise challenges and requirements.

Applying a dynamic approach, Anglian Water used its internal expertise to partner on a solution that best suits its own needs and those of the wider industry. The utility company was able to access Ovarro’s in-house engineering, R&D and data analytics capability and had an open view of the development process.

At the same time, Ovarro gained valuable industry insight from its utility partner, information about specific district metered areas and access to test and trial sites.

In 2021, the technology was updated further, resulting in the launch of the Enigma3-BB, a remote leak detection device which uses the Enigma3hyQ technology but which is installed directly into an operational meter box chamber – a first for the industry with this type of technology.

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