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Smart investment will deliver resilient infrastructure

Tim Bowen, Managing Director for the UK, Europe and the Middle East at global pipeline infrastructure specialist Aquam discusses why smart technologies for assset management worldwide are key to delivering resilient infrastructure.

Tim Bowen: After a summer of concerns about water scarcity in England and Northern Ireland, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ new report, Water: Drought and Flood is certainly timely. It supports the reduction of leaks as a means to building resilience into the UK’s water system.

This reflects the view of Ofwat, the water industry regulator for England and Wales,the Environment Agency and the UK Government. In the wake of the summer heatwave, which brought the threat of hosepipe bans in some areas, Ofwat chief executive Rachel Fletcher said the industry must to redouble its efforts to ensure the resilience of its assets and infrastructure.

Where the very availability of water is in question, the cost to the environment is unquantifiable and the need for action is all the more urgent. The public is not necessarily going to pay any more, and the assets are not getting any younger.

Rate of refurbishment and renewal globally failing to meet rate of deterioration

The IMechEreport invites a broad conversation about the state of water infrastructure in the UK and globally as the rate of refurbishment and renewal fails to meet the rate of deterioration. Leakage was a contributor to the crisis faced by Cape Town earlier this year when the water available to households hit critical levels.

Cape Town had actually cut its losses to 16% through a focus on preventative maintenance, according to the city’s director of water and sanitation, while South Africa’s overall leakage rate is at 37 per cent. However the drought revealed that the city needed to go further.

By comparison, the UK is on 20% of water lost to leakage, while Denmark has driven losses on its ageing network down to an enviable 7%, with one utility hitting a world-leading five per cent. This success has been achieved largely through partnerships between utilities and technology companies.

Ofwat says it expects the water sector in England and Wales to reduce leakage by a further 15% by 2025, making a similar “step change in efficiency”. Such a transformation cannot be delivered by traditional approaches to water management while the cost of produced water is too low to make a simple economic case for significant investment in network resilience.

Data on infrastructure condition is key to targeting investment at right assets 

This makes it imperative that investment is targeted at the right assets at the right time, which can only be achieved with a deep understanding of the condition of the infrastructure. Aquam is already working closely with a number of utilities and municipalities in the UK and North America to develop this understanding to ensure the integrity of their pipeline assets.

The company’s suite of pipe inspection and condition monitoring technologies and services are helping its clients be much more analytical in the ways they assess what needs to be done and when. Huge efficiencies are made possible by identifying weaknesses in pipes in advance, calculating the likelihood of bursts and leaks, and planning proactive maintenance.

The data-rich environment for asset management is made possible by smart technologies, which can mitigate catastrophic failure events, along with the accompanying water loss, heavy fines and high repair costs associated with reactive response. Examples include leak detection and pipe inspection systems which can be inserted into live potable water mains in lengths up to a kilometre.

Thousands of real-time data points can be captured by sensor heads that combine high definition CCTV, hydrophones and high-powered sondes. The data outputs can be analysed to assess pipe condition and pinpoint areas of interest requiring closer attention. They can also be scaled and synchronised with standard industry GIS platforms for seamless asset management.

Smart tech roll-out would make cities and utilities much more efficient in how they invest

Customer bills will not rise if these advanced techniques are widely implemented – and they could even come down! Such a roll-out would make cities and utilities much more efficient in how they invest – no longer needing to replace perfectly good water mains or spending reactively on unexpected bursts.

The customer would also benefit from resilience of supplies, which is critical in a water-scarce world. Utilities and integrated technology companies like Aquam must work together to focus efforts on the most pressing issues and find ways to undertake trials where public health and safety remain paramount.

Aquam is ready and able to assist utilities worldwide with their network challenges, so that smart asset management and resilience is embedded and infrastructure is built to last. In response to the challenges of climate change and urban population growth, our technology helps make more clean water available around the world.

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