Utility Week Innovate explores the best-in-class concepts from Northumbrian’s first hybrid innovation festival – from smart ways to maximise asset life span to dynamic sewer flood risk modelling.

Since Northumbrian’s inaugural Innovation Festival in 2017, more than 150 ideas have been developed, with the firm’s innovation pipeline boasting 80 ideas at any given point according to chief information officer Nigel Watson. “The last time I looked there’s about £25 million of value in that,” he told Utility Week Innovate before this year’s innovation festival.

While the event’s fifth iteration broke ground as Northumbrian’s first hybrid get together – featuring close to 4,000 attendees across 40 countries – the customary sprints spanning technology, utilities, customer service and innovation were a familiar sight as delegates once again tackled a raft of water sector, environmental and societal challenges.

After four days, the digital and in-person sessions yielded a host of new ideas including apps, new business models, digital models, new technology, wearables and funding mechanisms.

“It has been really difficult to pick my initial ones to watch, as all of the ideas are still at the very early stages, but the ones I have selected have already shown some real promise, Northumbrian’s head of innovation, Angela MacOscar, explained.

“Although the festival is over, the hard work is only just beginning, as we work to bring each of the ideas into the real world to eventually make a value added product and most importantly a difference to our customers.”

Poster child

While Watson highlighted a sprint sponsored by Ford to transform vans as workplaces to reduce feelings of isolation and tackle mental health challenges among drivers as a standout example of past innovation, he described the National Underground Asset Register – a common underground map of the UK – as the festival’s “poster child” idea.

MacOscar, also highlighted the National Underground Asset Register as the standout innovation from her three years in the sector and one that “popped out” of one of Northumbrian’s early festivals.

“It’s now a fully-fledged project supported by the UK government that has managed to bring millions of pounds in funding and is worth £1.2 billion to UK PLC in terms of stopping injuries and disruption through accidental utility strikes,” she explained. “Very proud of that one.”

Could any of this year’s standout ideas come close to the success of these former festival innovations?

Sprint: Life Beyond

This session focused on how to maximise the life of an asset. Participants mocked up a tipping-point tool, which measures the health of the asset using key parameters and tells the user when they need to make smaller investments before costly issues occur. This idea comes from the oil and gas sector.

Sprint: Under the lid…from smart to super smart meters

Participants looked at how the sector can enhance consumer engagement and operation performance with smart meters. The group ended the week with three different focusses – to make a more sustainable meter in terms of materials and lifespan, finding new ways to power it and novel sensors to add functionality.

Sprint: Turning Customers into Citizens

Attendees focused on how the industry can work with customers to change their attitude towards water usage and show them the true value of water. The innovators came up with concepts including a ‘no-throw-away day’ and will also work with developers to change housing stock and water provision in new build houses.

Sprint: Flooding Predict and Prevent

This session yielded ideas about how data science can help achieve the lowest levels of sewer flooding in the home. The teams developed a flood risk calculator which was mocked up during the week, and also looked at a dynamic sewer flooding risk model.

Sprint: Prevention is Better Than Cure

Throughout this session, the teams worked on developing a proactive approach to avoid leakage from a clean water network. The innovators looked at a multi-pronged solution combining customer education about customer-side leakage, focus on problematic areas for leakage and also the development of a predictive leakage model.

See this content brought to life at Utility Week Live, 17-18 May 2022 NEC Birmingham

Delivering smart water networks is one of the frontline challenges at the heart of Utility Week Live 2022’s live content programme.

View the challenges and be alerted for tickets to the industry’s most eagerly awaited reunion at utilityweeklive.co.uk.