Using teamwork and technology to save over 16 million litres of water a day
Water scarcity in the UK is a pressing problem and the utility companies responsible for managing and maintaining the nation’s water supply network face a plethora of challenges. Chief among them: leakage.
Affinity Water is the UK’s largest water-only supply company covering an area of 4,500 square kilometres across southeast England. They provide an average of 950 million litres of water per day to a population of more than 3.8 million. In recent years the company has made great strides to identify and fix leaks across its network and improve leakage measurement accuracy, reducing leakage by 15 percent between 2015 and 2020 – the industry’s largest percentage reduction for the period.
But there was still more work to be done and Affinity Water set itself another stretching leakage reduction target for 2020-2025. However, remaining leaks are difficult to identify and even harder to access and repair.
Our team came on board to help Affinity Water find and reduce leaks by bringing together the right team and increasing the pace of delivery of infrastructure projects. By deploying innovative new technology, Affinity Water can protect the environment, deliver on customer expectations, and reduce regulatory pressure and reputational risk.
- Saved 16.6 million litres of water a day through bringing teams together, increasing accuracy of leakage measurement, and deployment of traditional and innovative new technology to detect leaks. The savings are equivalent to the total annual water usage for more than 40,000 households.
- Put Affinity Water in a strong position to achieve its five-year regulatory target.
- Enabled Affinity Water to win the Team of the Year award at the Institute of Asset Management Excellence Awards.
Targeting water waste reduction
Every day, the UK’s water network ‘leaks’ three billion litres of water back into the ground and pressure is mounting on water companies – from consumers and the regulator, Ofwat to reduce this.
Affinity Water covers one of the most densely populated, economically active regions in the UK across an area spanning parts of London, the east, and southeast of England. The area is ‘water stressed’, facing greater demand than available sustainable supply.
Furthermore, the water industry is uniquely sensitive to the impacts of climate change and Affinity Water covers an area home to some of the world’s most endangered chalk streams which are at risk of drying up.
Ofwat, the water industry economic regulator, has pushed water companies to reduce leakage by at least 15 percent between 2020-2025 but Affinity Water has set its own five-year reduction target of 20 percent as part of its business plan. Having narrowly missed achieving its target in 2020/21 it was at risk of falling short of its target in 2021/22 and of its total five-year target.
A precious commodity
Affinity Water has committed to ending unsustainable abstraction from chalk groundwater and is working to restore rivers to improve biodiversity in its supply area. This, in turn, contributes towards achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
To do this, however, Affinity Water needed technical support from someone who understood the complexities of large programmes of work in the water sector. Additionally, it needed a partner intimately familiar with the regulatory regime in which leakage is considered and the operational challenges and opportunities of implementing leakage projects within a water company.
Deploying innovative technology to detect leaks
Affinity Water turned to us for help identifying and understanding how to fix its hard-to-reach leaks.
There are several levers that could be pulled when tackling leakage, the primary activities undertaken by Affinity Water in this instance were to: reduce the amount of time it takes to locate the leak (and therefore locate more in a day), reduce the flow rate of leaks, reduce the number of leaks at source, and increased accuracy in measurement of leakage through data analysis.
Affinity Water tasked us with helping to implement a significant and complex programme of work with 14 projects covering the above levers. One of these projects was the use of low orbiting satellite technology to narrow the search radius for operations teams. Another of the projects involved our team working with Affinity Water’s customer and operations teams to increase the number of free repairs on customer supply pipes.
Our combination of understanding the technical aspects of the water sector, regulatory expertise, and strong analytical capabilities meant we were uniquely equipped to help Affinity Water tackle its stretching leakage target.
Reducing leakage, building resilience
Affinity Water is now in a strong position to hit its five-year leakage commitment and satisfy its customers and Ofwat.
It has demonstrated that it’s taking meaningful steps to protect the local environment including minimising leakage and reducing harmful abstraction. The leakage programme we helped implement has saved 16.6 million litres of water a day — equivalent to nearly seven Olympic-sized swimming pools. It has also positioned Affinity Water well to tackle future leakage challenges efficiently and pursue its ultimate aim of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2030.
In recognition of this work, and the leakage programme, Affinity Water’s leakage team, along with our team, won the ‘Team of the Year’ award from the Institute of Asset Management.
We continue to work together on a long-term water network strategy that will help Affinity Water drive best value for its customers and regulators. The strategy centres on the optimisation of investment in its network over the next 25 years – ultimately describing what network interventions Affinity Water should invest in and when. This will help Affinity Water achieve a number of its long-term performance commitments including leakage.