One of Affinity Water’s two successful bids in the Ofwat Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC) has the potential to improve network resilience by unlocking untapped resources previously deemed too risky to consider.

Project lead Mumin Islam told Utility Week the bid would pave the way for others in the sector to explore the potential of smart management of storage and rainwater harvesting tanks within their own networks.

“Essentially it is giving our controllers almost double the capacity in terms of reservoir storage. This is unlocking hidden gems in the form of water tanks that have not been in our control. If we could control them in line with our own strategy it could really help with resilience and where demand is at its peak.”

Historically, such assets lack control settings so automatically fill up from mains water to ensure they are always topped up. Islam explained this means in extended dry spells such as the summer of 2018, rainwater harvesting systems do not reduce demand on the potable network when it most needs it.

The type of large-scale tanks being considered will generally draw from the network and “always keep full” as a status quo. When there is huge demand on the tanks there is likely to be high consumption across the network also, so the smarter tanks’ approach will always try to top the tank up at times when the network has low demand. It can keep these tanks fuller to save them drawing water when the rest of the network needs the supply more.

The trial will utilise smart demand management and Islam said the intention is to quantify the scale of opportunity to implement smart water tank control on third-party assets to build resilience and lower disruption to consumers.

The idea is to apply a strategy and monitoring system to such assets that are interlinked with the water company’s water network control strategy to provide real-time control.

Islam explained two locations have been selected to apply the strategy to both a drinking water tank and a rainwater tank. “The aim is to develop a business model canvas that harnesses real-time monitoring control solution for existing water tanks to improve the efficiency and resilience of a network at times of droughts or dry-spells.”

The study, which was awarded £94,500 from the IWC fund, will last six months to assess feasibility of using existing assets, then move toward design prototypes to test on the sites already identified by Affinity and partners at the University of Exeter.

“We are paving the way for the industry to take this onboard to explore different solutions for these assets,” Islam explained. “These assets are not under our control, so there is a sense of risk, but winning the bid will allow us to go into these areas to work with third parties. We can design and test the real-time control technology that will bring benefits to customers to minimise disruptions as well as improving resilience at times of peak demand.”

The approach will allow water companies to balance the networks in case of bursts or other issues to help operationally and has potential to be scaled up nationally. Islam said the idea has attracted support from other water companies since being awarded the Ofwat funding.

The holistic approach has sparked interest into exploring how smarter tanks could be used for integrated water management to link rainwater and drinking water management with wastewater and sewers. Islam said there is potential to link sustainable urban drainage solutions holistically with smart networks and even metering.

The collaborative nature of the bid, with partners at the University of Exeter and Aqua Civils could unlock potential that risk-averse companies ordinarily have shied away from.

Islam explained getting beyond the hurdle of working with assets not in the company’s control could unlock huge benefits for the network as well as third parties to make their tanks more resilient when they need it.

“This has never been touched upon before, so our project is just the beginning of something bigger,” Islam said. “There’s so much this could open up and hopefully we can pave that way for the industry.”

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