United Utilities has signed a framework agreement with a Canadian technology firm to rollout artificial intelligence (AI) across its network – in a move believed to be a first for a UK water company.

The deal, signed with Emagin, follows on from a successful 12-week trial which began in February after Emagin was selected as a finalist in United Utilities’ Innovation Lab.

It will see United Utilities introduce large-scale AI into its operational systems.

Emagin’s AI platform called HARVI [Hybrid Adaptive Real-time Virtual Intelligence] assesses vast amounts of data on a range of factors such as weather, demand for water, pump performance and electricity prices. The information is then used to help make decisions on the most cost-effective and efficient way to run pumps, detect burst pipes and minimise the risk of discoloured water.

During the trial, which took place across Oldham in Greater Manchester, HARVI demonstrated energy savings of 22 per cent. The water company now plans to deploy the artificial intelligence platform in phases across the whole north west region by the end of 2019.

United Utilities’s chief operating officer, Steve Fraser, said: “Water networks are complex systems, and technology like this is going to play an integral role in our drive towards ‘systems thinking’, helping us make more sense and better use of big data.

“It will free up our people to be more proactive and that’s going to have a direct impact on levels of service. Water companies are going to have to start thinking in this way and embracing new technology if we are to meet customers’ expectations on value and reliability.

“The pilot scheme clearly demonstrated the huge potential for efficiency and energy savings which will help reduce our operational costs. This is going to be vital over the coming years as we aim to reduce customer bills by 10.5 per cent in real terms from 2020.”

Thouheed Abdul Gaffoor, chief executive of Emagin, added: “The engagement at every level across United Utilities showed their continuous drive to deploy technology that supports their customers.

“This is an exciting time for us, United Utilities is one of the largest and most innovative water companies in the world and gives us a huge presence to grow in the UK and Europe.”

The two companies are considering running further trials of the technology in other applications such as wastewater operations and leakage reduction.