Ben Earl, water efficiency manager, Southern Water Technology, Water, Opinion, Southern Water, Technology and Innovation Council

Southern Water's Ben Earl explains how the company is using AI to support a targeted approach to influencing customer behaviours and delivering much needed reductions in water usage.

With a government consultation on demand reduction over the summer and the unifying of a whole host of stakeholders all calling for more ambition, we know that water efficiency has come of age. So how can AI assist water companies to target the right support to the right customers?

We know that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ when it comes to providing the right support for customers. Southern Water’s water saving home visit programme is receiving exceptionally positive feedback. Each visit is designed to provide specific water saving information, clear advice and bespoke water saving product installation for each of our customers’ homes. Having meters in the ground is also giving us actual readings that shows that each visit on average is saving our customers at least 34 litres per property per day.

But what if as a water company we were able to present ourselves at each property having ascertained not only the customer demographic, but also the water usage patterns related to the family set up and the usage of certain products in the house. AI presents a new opportunity to use external data sources, collected with permission to provide a wealth of new information to work alongside meter data.

At Southern Water we are doing just this. Working in partnership with specialist consultancy Artesia and Eastleigh Borough Council we are blending various data sources, including energy performance data into a ‘random forest model’ which understands success and failure criteria both in how we reach customers but also in how they respond to certain interventions. This work is designed to directly shape our Target 100 programme work to ensure that we turn up at the right customers doors and save the most water possible when we get there. This works well alongside our highly rated home water saving visit service where we have innovated to introduce a leaking toilet fix, install a water butt and provide an e-mailed follow up report.

In combination with this, we know that incentives can play an important role in changing customer behaviour. The impact on plastic bag usage following the introduction of a five pence charge has been dramatic across the UK. Single plastic bag use has plummeted and the race is now on to find that all important equivalent in the water industry. To test this we have introduced a community incentive to share the proceeds of water savings with a rural community around Winchester.

The River Itchen Challenge delivered an 8% reduction in water usage compared to similar areas nearby. We are now working with the council to deliver personal, charitable and community rewards to enable an ongoing water saving conversation to take place. AI again offers the opportunity to learn fast from what the customer is responding to and therefore offer the very best package to continue that water saving journey.

Southern Water has set a bold and UK leading demand reduction target to reduce per capita consumption to 100 litres per person per day across our region by 2040. Target 100 is not just about reducing water consumption; it is about shifting society to value water. Artificial Intelligence is playing an increasing part in our armoury as we seek to hit our bold ambitions to effectively manage water resources, keep bills affordable, drive innovation and support our customers.

This article was commissioned as part of a special series of industry viewpoints on the transformative potential of AI for the utilities sector. This series is being published in the lead up to the next meeting of the Utility Week-Wipro Technology and Innovation Council on 6 November, which will include a unique panel debate on the challenges and opportunities involved for companies seeking to disrupt and add value through using AI. To express you interest in attending this event, please contact Liz Izard at lizizard@fav-house.com

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