United Utilities is rolling out the biggest “listening” project of its kind in the world in a bid to tackle water leakage.
The North West water company is installing around 100,000 ‘acoustic’ loggers over the next two years on its underground water supply network. The vast pipe system – more than 26,000 miles in length – would wrap around the world if the pipes were laid end to end.
Kevin Fowlie is United Utilities’ Network Delivery Director and he said it was a massive undertaking which underlines the company’s commitment to reducing water leakage: “We have one of the largest and oldest water supply networks in the UK and it’s a constant battle to keep on top of leaks. Many leaks never show on the surface, so it is a round-the-clock challenge to find and fix them.
“Following the extreme dry weather last year we’ve seen leakage rates increase due to ground movement. We have doubled our leakage detection and repair resource to meet our leakage targets, and now we need to go even further.
“Our customers have told us it is one of the issues most important to them, so we have committed to a 20 per cent reduction in leakage over the coming five year investment period, and that means using the latest innovations.
“By 2020 we will have the largest estate of acoustic logger technology in the world. Every quarter of a mile on our water network we will be able to glean real-time data, allowing us to respond faster and more accurately when a pipe begins to leak.”
An acoustic logger is a small device that would fit in the palm of a hand, installed directly onto the fittings of a water pipe. The loggers “listen” for the characteristic noise waves that are transferred through pipe walls by a leak, and upon detection of the sound they send an alarm to United Utilities’ integrated control centre. Analysts can then send an engineer to pinpoint the leak and raise work for it to be repaired.
Engineers carried out a trial of the technology last year when 2,000 loggers were installed in Liverpool and Manchester city centres. These are already thought to have saved up to 5 million litres of water a day.
In Phase 1 of the project this summer 44,000 loggers will be installed across the North West at a cost of £14 million. A second phase of 50,000 loggers are in the pipeline for 2020 – a massive investment worth around £30 million in total.
The new loggers will join a growing arsenal of innovative ideas employed by United Utilities in the battle to reduce leakage, including satellite technology and specially trained water sniffer dogs.