The latest round-up of utility industry innovation includes a customer experience digital twin from Northumbrian Water, plans for a ‘hydrogen town’ in the Humber region and an update on London’s ‘super sewer’.

Cadent and Equinor to develop plans for ‘hydrogen town’

Cadent and Equinor have agreed to collaboratively develop plans for a “hydrogen town” in the Humber region in which the gas network would be converted to run on 100% hydrogen.

According to Utility Week reports, the two firms have signed a memorandum of understanding to produce technical assessments and concepts for hydrogen production, storage, demand and distribution.

They said the Humber – sometimes described as the UK’s “energy estuary” – is the ideal location for a pilot due to other low-carbon hydrogen production projects proposed in the area, including Equinor’s H2H Saltend blue hydrogen plant.

As the gas distribution network operator for Lincolnshire, Cadent would assess which parts of its infrastructure could be used to carry hydrogen instead of natural gas and develop any new infrastructure required.

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‘Super sewer’ makes connection through Blackfriars site

The Tideway tunnel project is progressing apace following the breaking out of concrete plugs at either side of the shaft at Blackfriars Bridge Foreshore.

This work signals the next step in secondary lining for the 25km long, 7.2m wide, main tunnel in London’s “super sewer”.

The removal of the east and west plugs allows the tunnelling team to install rails enabling the secondary lining apparatus to cross the shaft on its way to the Chambers Wharf site in Bermondsey, south London.

The progress also means that all sections of the main tunnel are now connected to where tunnel boring machine Selina is digging the final eastbound stretch towards Abbey Mills Pumping Station.

The £4.1 billion project, being delivered by the Tideway consortium for Thames Water and due for completion in 2025, is designed to accommodate the combined impacts of the capital’s population growth and climate change over the next 100 years.

Northumbrian uses AI to predict customer behaviour

As reported by Utility Week, Northumbrian Water has created a digital twin for customer experience to map and predict satisfaction levels and behaviours.

The harnessed data analytics and AI were also used to understand customer pain points in near real-time. Northumbrian said this will help the firm exceed its performance commitments by improving customer journeys.

The company partnered with AI and data firm Aiimi to create the platform, providing staff with a customer’s likely level of satisfaction before direct contact is made. Aiimi developed the feature in direct response to Ofwat’s C-MeX scores being introduced at PR19.

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EV charging report highlights component and expert shortages

A report by electric vehicle (EV) charging consultancy Versinetic has flagged a number of significant barriers threatening the rollout of charging infrastructure necessary to support 2030 EV targets.

In Key Barriers to EV Charging Infrastructure Rollout, the firm explains that shortages in components including computer chips, and EV experts – such as mechanics and skilled technicians to maintain chargers as well as software programmers and developers to create smart chargers – are slowing progress.

The report also acknowledges that increased demand for lithium yields innovation challenges around cutting down on metals in batteries which are scarce, expensive, or problematic because of environmental and social costs of mining, and the need to improve battery recycling so that metals in spent car batteries can be efficiently reused.

These findings come as the government aims to build an EV charging network backed by £1.3 billion funding.

“Even with funding and enthusiasm, as part of the EV community, we have a hard job ahead of us, and only through innovation and collaboration will we overcome these challenges,” said Dunstan Power, director of Versinetic.

Less than a third of UK businesses have a carbon neutrality strategy

More than 40% of UK businesses may feel overwhelmed by the steps needed to reach carbon neutrality, according to research by YouGov on behalf of Veolia.

The survey of more than 1,000 senior decision makers found that less than a third (29%) of firms have a strategy for reaching net zero – though more than half  (52%) of larger companies (250+ employees) quizzed had plans in place, with 61% of those feeling that their reputation would be negatively affected if they failed to commit.

Despite low numbers committing to a carbon net zero strategy, 80% of those who did are very confident of achieving their goals.

The research also found that 56% of businesses with a net zero plan have set a budget for their carbon strategy, while 40% of firms surveyed are currently employing third parties for carbon offsetting practices.

“We need to see more industries commit to a robust strategy to reduce their environmental impact, whether that be through use of electric vehicles, cleaner energy supplies or reduced packaging,” said Gavin Graveson, senior executive vice president at Veolia Northern Europe Zone.

“In the wake of COP26, we need to work together, share expertise, innovate and research new sustainable solutions so carbon net zero can become a reality, rather than a goal.”

Online tool launched to reduce regional leakage

Northumbrian Water has created an online leakage portal to help reduce leakages and save water across the north east by making it easier to report leaks as soon as they are spotted.

The portal will also give automatic email updates once a leak has been reported and repaired.

“We fix thousands of leaks a year, and our teams are very responsive when it comes to carrying out repairs,” said Jim Howey, head of water networks at Northumbrian.

“However, we can only repair leaks that we know about, which is why we are urging our customers to use the new leakage portal and help us by reporting any leaks they spot.”

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