iDMA: Sutton & East Surrey Water’s smart network project 

In 2022, network leakage attributed to the loss of 1tn litres of water. Edd Barber, Liam Ahearne and Jack Nicol of SESW join us to explain their radical leak detection approach, powered by predictive AI modelling capabilities.

iDMA is SESW’s smart water network project. At the heart of iDMA is Aquasuite BURST Alert - the 24/7 AI monitoring software provided by Royal HaskoningDHV. The AI-powered predictive modelling capabilities of the software takes signals from over 1,000 network sensors and, in near real-time, performs predictive analysis to compare expected pressures and flows with actual performance.

If a deviation between the expected and actual measurement is detected, which could indicate the presence of a large leak in the area, the software will generate an alarm which is then automatically sent to our 24 hour control room so SESW can investigate and solve issues as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to customers.

The primary objectives of the iDMA project were to:

  • Make SESW the first UK water company to have a fully smart network (iDMA) programme
  • Reduce our average leak detection time and volume of water lost through larger leaks.
  • Reduce our environmental impact by increasing efficiency of our network technology.
  • Gain additional network insights to help us track and prevent potential future issues.
  • Limit customer disruption through supply interruptions or low pressure events.

We posed a few questions to SESW’s Edd Barber, Asset Intelligence Lead, Jack Nicol, Smart Asset Field Manager, and Liam Ahearne, Head of Asset Strategy on their ambitious project.

What results are you seeing and what wider benefits is this having for the company?

Since rolling out the pioneering technology, we have already noticed a significant improvement in the quality and reliability of our DMA (District Metered Area - DMAs - Isolated sections of network with ~ 1,000 properties on average) data. Not only are we getting more frequent data (every 15 minutes rather than every one hour) we are also getting better data granularity (one minute rather than a 15-minute average).

We have been able to achieve the following:

  • Reduced leak detection time. Near real-time for major bursts and 1-3 days for smaller leaks. A significant improvement on our current systems which historically would have been 1-2 days for a burst and 3-5 days for smaller leaks
  • Leak runtime reduction of up to 40 % on average
  • Increased awareness of other network events such as pumping failures and extreme or illegal usage.
  • Gained the ability to track statistical pressure, water and ambient temperature which are leading indicators to future network issues, helping us prevent them from happening before they do.
  • Improved our nightline estimates of leakage through more granularity
  • Reduction of our carbon and environmental impact though improved efficiency by only sending field teams to genuine issues and targeting where they look for leaks.
  • Reduced risk of pollution incidents and lower carbon emissions.
  • Despite the increased data we can maintain at least the same battery life as our previous sensors, further reducing environmental impact.

Have there been any challenges?

Launching iDMA posed challenges, particularly in the software's self-learning phase. Adapting to diverse DMA characteristics and unforeseen disruptions, such as COVID-19 lockdowns, required meticulous testing and continuous adjustments. Despite these obstacles, our team's dedication working with our suppliers ensured optimal alarm quality and system performance.

What's the longer-term strategy?

Looking ahead, our focus is on further expanding our smart network capabilities. In the next 5 years, we plan to roll out advanced leak location devices, targeting significant reductions in leakage over the coming decades to deliver a 50% reduction in leakage by 2041. By combining technology with proactive leakage control strategies, we aim to achieve substantial water savings, contributing to a sustainable future.

In summary, our purpose is to improve lives and enhance nature and the smart network represents a pivotal step forward in these areas showcasing SESW's commitment to innovation and environmental stewardship.

This has been a core pillar for us finding leaks quicker and reducing leakage, whilst also ensuring we build on our track record of being among the best in the industry in areas that matter most to our customers, including: water quality, supply resilience and environmental sustainability.

Our exciting and ambitious PR24 plan submitted to Ofwat ensures we strengthen our resilience for the future and will see more than £400 million invested to continue to transform our service and deliver even more for our customers, environment and local communities.

Author biographies:

Edd Barber, Asset Intelligence Lead

Barber started his career in the water industry with SESW in 2020 after graduating with an MSc In Environmental Engineering from Imperial College London. His work has primarily focused on leakage targeting, leakage quantification and, by helping drive the implementation of innovative solutions such as iDMA, leakage reduction and environmental conservation.

Within the iDMA project, Barber takes the lead on the quality assurance of predictions and alarms, the future development needs of the software, benefits tracking and the provision of analytical support to end-users.

Jack Nicol, Smart Asset Field Manager

Nicol has over a decade of experience at SES Water, where he currently serves as the Smart Asset Field Manager. Throughout his time, he has worked in various roles, from Water Quality Sampler to PRV Technician to Asset Data Lead.

With a keen focus on using new innovative technology for water management, Nicol has been part of the smart network (iDMA) right from the beginning and have been responsible for implementing and overseeing SES Water's smart network field activities. This has included sensor installation and maintenance efforts, ensuring optimal data availability for informed decision-making.

Liam Ahearne, Head of Asset Strategy:

With 17 years of experience in the water industry, primarily in operational roles, Ahearne has spent the last four years in senior positions at SES Water. His responsibilities included serving as the Head of Production and the Head of Strategic Projects, where he played a key role in the development of the PR24 business plan submission. As of November 2023, he assumed the position of Head of Asset Strategy, overseeing four core functions within SES Water's Asset Strategy department: Smart Asset Management, Sustainability, Asset Intelligence and Reporting, and Innovation.

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