With the impact of climate change and increased demand putting more pressure on the water sector, utilities are transforming to ensure that they can still provide a sufficient supply. To keep up with these demands, South East Water has deployed its network leak detection program as part of its Digital Utility program.

As one of the country’s biggest water suppliers and wastewater managers, South East Water delivers more than 136 billion litres of drinking water and collects more 108 billion litres of wastewater annually.

To ensure long-term water security, enhance customer experience, and optimise assets and operations, South East Water embarked on the transformation to a digital utility – bringing together people, processes and technology to scale the deployment of advanced sensors across the network and transition to a data driven organisation.

From digital meters to advanced sensors

The Digital Utility program aims to leverage granular network, consumption and operational data to deliver sustainable value to customers and stakeholders through improved services, and to lower costs over the long term. One fundamental use case of the Digital Utility program is the reduction of non-revenue water, or leaks, across the utility network.

Digital Utility General Manager, Andrew Forster-Knight, said, “While Australian utilities enjoy a relatively low level of non-revenue water on a global scale, there are huge benefits if we can further reduce even a small percentage of non-revenue water.”

The initial focus of the program was the deployment of digital meters, which provided South East Water with a unique opportunity to integrate additional sensors to gain better visibility of customer-side usage and leaks, as well as leaks across the utility network.

“Possibly the biggest step change that we’re seeing is embedding additional sensors in digital meters. These are just meters that go on customer properties, but they’ve got miniaturised embedded sensors in them to detect leaks on the network side,” Mr Forster-Knight said.

Learnings from early deployments

South East Water currently uses a range of solutions to detect network leaks, including Sotto® network leak detection sensors, which allow it to economically deploy a leak detection solution, at scale. Leveraging the communications and battery of the digital meter, these additional sensors detect vibrations, minimise false positives and send daily predetermined alerts.

Heat maps enable South East Water to detect and locate potential leaks. The utility has currently deployed more than 38,000 Sotto® enabled digital meters, which are shifting the detection of water leaks from reactive to proactive as the sensors detect network leaks up to months ahead of traditional equipment.

An independent by Jacobs extrapolated trial data to confirm that deploying Sotto® in every digital meter (for suitable sites) at scale would achieve at least a one per cent reduction in non-revenue water, equating to 1.63 GL annually at South East Water. These savings are the result of early detection and detecting previously undetectable leaks.

A network-scale solution

Results of early deployments and analysis undertaken to determine the benefits and economic viability of deploying network leak detection at scale were key inputs into the business case for Digital Utility, a fundamental pillar of South East Water’s Price Submission 2023–28.

As a result of this success, the utility will deploy a further 600,000 digital meters integrated with Sotto® over the five-year period.

To help manage data from Sotto® sensors, South East Water plans to automate leak detection and location through advanced analytics, which would provide operators and maintenance teams with insights into leak profiles and scenarios before they attend sites.

This is game-changing technology, supporting South East Water to deliver on its commitment to achieve sustainable value to customers, through improved services and lower costs over the long term, while protecting our precious water resources.

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