Water company is testing satellites as a new way to detect leaks

Severn Trent is trialling satellites as a new way to detect leakage in a bid to reduce leakage levels by 15 per cent.

The company, which already uses drones to spot leaks from the air, said it is going a step further with its “leakage detection from space”.

Dr Bob Stear, head of innovation at Severn Trent, said: “At the moment leakage detection hasn’t developed much in the way of new emerging technologies, so we’ve chosen to take a chance on satellites. We’re doing two trials to find leaks in different ways.”

Severn Trent will be working with satellite communication company Rezatec, which analyses satellite data and imagery to monitor changes in the landscape near to the pipe.

This includes changes to the vegetation, water content in soil, water accumulation and sub-centimetre ground movement, all of which help to identify potential leakage.

The water company will also work with Utilis, using a Japanese satellite, 637km above the earth to identify fresh water leaks.

It works by picking up a signature of longwave radiation of chlorine in water, tracking the “signature” of drinking water escaping into the ground.

Severn Trent said the trials have identified “many points of interest”, which teams are then following up with onsite investigations. “Any leaks found are then planned in and fixed as soon as possible,” the company said.

Stear added: “We’re really excited to be working on this. Its early days so far, but it’s looking really promising.  What’s really impressive is that we’re picking up leaks as small as boundary boxes and leaks on valves – something that is normally incredibly difficult to pinpoint. 

“With this new satellite technology, the time it takes to locate leaks should significantly reduce, which is obviously great news for leakage levels. We can see clearly the value that this level of geospatial data insight can deliver, and we fully expect to be able to improve our costs and efficiency by making better informed decisions when finding and fixing leaks.”

Philip Briscoe, chief operating officer of Rezatec, added: “It’s incredible what we can understand from satellite data in relation to monitoring asset networks. Identifying high risk areas of underground pipeline infrastructure and detecting symptoms of leakage is a cost-effective alternative to more traditional methods as its non-invasive, frequently updated and highly scalable.”

Speaking at Utility Week’s Congress 2017 event last month, Liv Garfield, chief executive of Severn Trent, said: “Earlier this year, we launched internally the ambition to reduce leaks by 15 per cent over the next five years. Ironically Ofwat then announced a similar target [15 per cent reduction by 2025]. We’re committed to that and it shows we are advanced in our thinking.”

Severn Trent recently launched a £30 million fund for “incentivised developers” to build more water efficient homes

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