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For Australian water utilities, non-revenue water is a continuous challenge, with no clear solution at scale. Andrew Forster-Knight, General Manager of Digital Utility at South East Water, discusses how digital solutions are enabling utilities to identify and locate network leaks.

Network leaks have a number of serious consequences for water utilities, including the wastage of a finite resource, loss of revenue, increased maintenance costs, customer disruption and reputational damage.

A 2019 Bureau of Meteorology report estimated non- revenue water loss, over the past five years, accounts for approximately 10 per cent of Australia’s utilities’ water supply. Andrew Forster-Knight, General Manager Digital Utility at South East Water, said water loss is a major challenge for utilities worldwide.

“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,” Mr Forster-Knight said.

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 over 108 billion litres of wastewater each year in Melbourne’s south-east.

Identifying the location of leaks

Mr Forster-Knight said the biggest challenge to detecting major water leaks is pinpointing their location in the network. “The main issue is actually finding them, because a lot of them start as small leaks before they burst through the surface, becoming a major disruption to customers and the public with damage to roads and homes,” Mr Forster- Knight said.

But now, the Australian water industry is deploying digital meters to gain better visibility of water usage across the network, providing customers with more granular and immediate information about water consumption.

South East Water is undertaking one of the largest digital meter rollouts in Australia so far, with over 30,000 now installed in Melbourne’s south-east, across a range of customer groups and housing types.

However, Mr Forster-Knight said digital meters with integrated network leak detection sensors such as Iota’s Sotto®, are among the biggest game-changers utilities will experience in the near future.

“Probably 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 actually got embedded sensors in them to detect leaks on the network side,” Mr Forster-Knight said.

South East Water currently use a range of solutions to detect network leaks. Sotto® provides a unique opportunity to economically deploy a leak detection solution, at scale. Leveraging the communications and battery of the digital meter, the solution delivers near real-time leak alerts across the network.

This technology has been developed and tested for over three years by South East Water. The Sotto® sensor is integrated into the digital meter, capturing interval readings through quiet times of the night. Threshold analysis can pinpoint a leak to within metres, by gathering data from multiple sensors to triangulate the location.

“It’s giving us granularity that we’ve never had before,” Mr Forster-Knight said. “It’s literally down to the pipe connecting into houses and through to the main pipes in the street. We can detect leaks effectively in near real-time, long before they become a burst or a disruption to the customer.”

Interpreting the data for decision making

With the collection of data from thousands of digital water meters, it’s essential for South East Water to make sense of the information coming through. Sotto® enabled meters send the data to Iota’s fit-for-water IoT platform, Lentic®, which acts as a communications gateway; providing device management and data validation.

Locating leaks using data from Sotto® can be achieved through any analytics platform with some customisation. Lentic® however provides this functionality out-of-the-box, with in-built visualisation and alarms. Furthermore, when fused with data from enterprise systems, additional analytics can enable utilities to make informed asset management decisions about, for example, pipe renewals.

Digital meters integrated with Sotto®, and ingested into Lentic® have already enabled South East Water to reduce non-revenue water loss. Results so far have seen significant water savings from early intervention to fix underground leaks before they burst.

“Recently in Port Melbourne, there was a major mains leak. The heat map clearly showed there was an issue on the main, not at the individual house level,” Mr Forster-Knight said. “We were able to get out there with our crews and dig with confidence.”

South East Water estimates that leveraging these solutions will result in a 1 to 3 percent reduction in non-revenue water across their network.

The capability to proactively identify, quantify and locate network leaks is a key factor supporting South East Water’s positive business case for digital metering.

The future of water leak management

Mr Forster-Knight said that the next stage for South East Water and Iota is to focus on building a data repository and then use machine learning for deeper analysis. He said that as new leaks occur, these machine learning techniques will reference the database and begin to learn what the likely cause of the leak is.

Mr Forster-Knight said the utility’s end goal is a solution that informs us daily where issues have arisen and the severity of each. “Having it proved in the real world is the key for us scaling it further.

We wanted to see what it can and can’t do, and I think we’ve seen that and we’re pretty impressed. Based on this, we will look to scale it out accordingly,” Mr Forster-Knight said.

South East Water is a leader in digital transformation; as we develop, test and trial new solutions at scale. Iota, the commercial arm, then shares these proven solutions with industry.

This sponsored editorial is brought to you by Iota Services. For more information, visit iota.net.au.

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