Smarter assets for resilient infrastructure

Smartening up the asset base is critical to the future resilience of energy and water networks. With looming challenges from climate change, shifting demand profiles and more, Utility Week Live speakers talk about how they are augmenting and updating their assets and asset management approaches.

Asset management has always been key to the efficient operation of energy and water networks, but the challenges of the future and a shifting landscape of expectation and responsibility increases pressure on utilities to ensure their infrastructure is robust and fit for purpose.

The UK’s legacy of ageing infrastructure is more prone to damage and failure, potentially resulting in service disruptions, safety hazards and added costs. Extreme weather events, made more frequent and severe by climate change, add to that strain and potentially shorten lifespans.

Scott Mathieson, director of network planning and regulation at SP Energy Networks tells UW: “Despite significant investment in network growth and asset modernisation, a core of network infrastructure is beyond its original design life. Furthermore, assets installed in the 1990s and early 2000s are unlikely to have the same operational lifespan as earlier generations of equipment.”

SPEN’s Scott Mathieson will speak about predictive maintenance successes on the Smart Stage at Utility Week Live on 17 May. Full programme details here.

The move to decarbonise the grid, and integrate distributed renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, introduces new vulnerabilities and fluctuations in supply and demand requiring upgrades to equipment and infrastructure. Add to that shifts in societal behaviour, such as the move towards home working, cyber threats, brought into sharper focus by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and more stringent service reliability standards and regulatory expectations, and the onus is on utilities to bolster resilience and future proof their operations.

Traditional asset management policies and practices will need to adapt to stay ahead of the game, explains Tanya Dady, asset strategy manager at SES Water: “With a notable drive from Ofwat to provide cost efficient investments in infrastructure, whilst still delivering against increasingly challenging performance commitments to reduce leakage, bursts and supply interruptions etc., it’s clear that the water industry must adapt and embrace smarter approaches to network asset management.”

SES Water’s Tanya Dady will speak will speak about predictive maintenance successes on the Smart Stage at Utility Week Live on 17 May. Full programme details here

Resilience reimagined

The energy and water sectors have always committed money and resources to help ensure their infrastructure is hardened to potential future scenarios. For example, DNOs have spent in the region of £12 billion on reliability and resilience measures since 2016, according to the Energy Networks Association.

However, a confluence of factors is pushing them to double down and ensure their networks can absorb and adapt to a changing environment.

The impacts from extreme weather brought on by climate change are already being felt. Storm Arwen in 2021 blasted winds of up to 100mph across the north of England and Scotland, causing costly damage and disruption to electricity networks and leaving nearly one million homes without power.  When Storm Eunice struck the south west in February 2022, WPD experienced the highest number of faults ever recorded in its history across a 24-hour period, with more than half a million customers off supply.

The UK is also becoming warmer and wetter. The latest State of the UK Climate report by the MET Office states that the top 10 warmest years since 1884 have occurred this century and the last decade (2012–2021) was on average 10% wetter than between 1961 and 1990.

Increased precipitation puts significant stress on water networks, leading to asset damage, soil run-off, or adding to water pollution due to the reduction in flows. On the flip side, higher temperatures mean more rapid evaporation and asset corrosion.

Efforts by water companies to upgrade infrastructure to deal with the impacts of climate change include the recently-tendered construction of an 8.7 billion litre reservoir in Havant designed to bolster water supplies for the south east of England.  Anglian Water is delivering one of the largest infrastructure projects the water sector has ever seen, laying 500km of pipe to connect some of the driest parts of the region to improve resilience.

The potentially devastating impacts of flooding recently prompted Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks to carry out a major review of its substations, supported by data on flooding risk from the UK Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency. This was used to identify those in need of protection, rebuilding, raising or relocation. Design standards for new substations were also revised to ensure resilience to flooding.

Non-invasive monitoring

Access to more accurate information on the condition of assets and how they are performing can support better decision making. At a technology level, electricity networks have a greater focus on automation, sensors, reclosers, and smart switchgear able to detect outages and quickly recover or reconfigure the grid to redirect power to customers.

Data-led predictive asset management is increasingly being adopted across the water sector. The focus is typically on above ground assets, but SES Water is now also harnessing the technology to assess the condition of water mains below ground.

The company-wide condition assessment programme combines the use of non-invasive acoustic monitoring for pipeline water leak detection (Echologics’ ePulse technology) with a “holistic DMA health check”, used to support asset investment planning.

According to Tanya Dady, the innovation “completely changed” the way SES Water approached mains replacements during AMP7, and will remain central to its policy into AMP8.

“It means we are able to provide more insight than ever before into the condition of our network,” she tells UW. “The project is yielding a 24% uplift in efficiency in the way asset interventions are selected compared with our historic (and still industry standard) approach.”

However, she adds that the shift to data-led predictive asset management requires a solid understanding of the asset base, including good GIS records with age, diameter, material and location all accurately captured.

The potential damaging impacts of extreme weather on the power grid will be mitigated by the move away from centralised generation towards distributed energy resources, like wind, solar PV, electric vehicles and batteries. Crucially, this will also enable resilience against reliance on fossil fuels.

However, because renewables are weather-dependent and variable they require increasing flexibility to ensure consistent supply to meet demand and the bi-directional flow of power threatens more frequent grid congestion. Investment in new technologies and infrastructure to help balance the grid and manage these fluctuations is therefore key.

As DNOs transition into Distribution System Operators (DSOs), responsible for distributing and managing energy from generation sources to consumers, they will engage in  active network management using real-time data to make interventions on the network.

Low voltage revolution

According to Mathieson, SPEN is in the process of “revolutionising” how it manages assets on low voltage networks close to customers who are connecting low carbon technologies.

Its innovative ‘LV Support Room’ system analyses smart meter data and exploits “unique interconnected network modelling tools” to provide granular forecasting of demand changes across communities.

Following a successful pilot, the system is now being built out into a new model for managing the LV system, which is considered essential to manage the huge changes required to enable net zero at a local network level.

“On the distribution network side we will be pushing the operational envelope of our system to enable net zero, so it is essential that asset management innovation allows us to target the right interventions at the right time,” says Mathieson.

Smart approaches to asset management underpin energy transition, they are also vital to help maintain a safe and reliable service for customers without adding significant costs.

Regulation has evolved in recent years to ensure that asset-management efficiencies deliver performance benefits to consumers through company measurement and incentives. A prime example is Ofgem’s Network Asset Risk Metric, developed to quantify the benefit to consumers of companies’ asset management activities. The framework will function as an output in RIIO-2 used to hold utilities accountable for investment decisions.

Similarly, water companies will need to make more intelligent use of their data to meet stretching requirements under AMP8 and to inform long-term asset investment decisions under AMP9. This can also help plug efficiency gaps in PR24 business plans, due for submission in the Autumn.

Learning from the power sector, some water utilities are applying advanced analytics to better understand their assets’ history, health, and criticality.

Data-driven condition based monitoring (CBM) is helping Anglian Water improve the efficiency, lifespan, and reliability of assets across the east of England to deliver a more resilient service for customers.

The initiative covers various water and water recycling assets and forms an integral part of its Smart Water Network, set up to provide insight and opportunities for early intervention and data driven decision making.

The CBM solutions assess the condition of rotating and pumping assets for factors including vibration, temperature, pressure, ultrasound, and energy and power. Suppliers carry out expert analysis of the live data and give Anglian Water an early warning of any indicators of a potential failure.

Charlotte Stewart, senior smart water engineer at Anglian Water tells UW: “Having the advanced warning from these insights allows us to intervene before components are damaged irreparably and carry out maintenance in a proactive and planned way, which is much safer and more cost-effective than having to react when the asset has failed.”

Anglian Water’s Charlotte Stewart will offer insights into “asset management game changers” on the Smart stage at Utility Week Live on 16 May. Full programme details here.

The utility’s maintenance schedule this summer will, for the first time, be based on actual condition and performance, rather than the conventional approach of basing it on the time since the last refurbishment. According to Stewart, this means maintenance can be targeted on assets that need it most and faulty components can be swapped out before a pump goes for refurbishment, which helps with cost control and budgeting.

Furthermore, the energy performance insights provide the opportunity to optimise the operation of assets, running them more efficiently.

Energy and water networks face significant investment challenges over the coming years as they seek to deliver robust networks adapted to a range of threats and the demands of regulators and consumers without busting budgets. A smarter approach to managing infrastructure can help ease that burden by optimising constrained resources and maximising opportunities in the transition to net zero.

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