Water utilities at first glance don't seem to be likely candidates to be pushing the forefront of advanced analytics. They tend to be somewhat cautious and conservative. Their budgets for exploratory projects are generally small and virtually everything they do needs to be approved by a regulatory body.
But flip it around for a second. These are companies that are often the largest consumers of power in their region. They operate real time networks where a glitch in service can mean a disruption of life for thousands. And they have to monitor thousands of pieces of equipment that are often old, spread over thousands of square kilometers and buried underground.
That's why we are particularly proud to have played a supporting role in the Data Demon award given to United Utilities at Utility Week in Europe. The award goes to a utility that has expanded the frontiers of what can be accomplished with data in operations.
United, one of the largest water utilities in the United Kingdom, serves over 7 million customers in the Manchester-Liverpool area. It sports 42,000 kilometers of water mains, 72,000 sewer mains, 96 water treatment plants and 184 reservoirs.
It has also been the driving force behind STREAM, an R&D program run in conjunction with Imperial College and others to develop and relatively quickly commercialize innovations in water. In one project, United and the University of Exeter created 24 Evolutionary Artificial Neural Networks (EANNs) to precisely estimate day-ahead water demand. Examining five different district usage zones ranging in size from 335 customers to nearly 9,000 residential and customers consuming 216 cubic meters per hour over 119 kilometers of water mains, United was able to accurately predict water consumption 24 hours in advance with 98% accuracy This potentially paves the way for United to save energy and equipment wear and tear: by knowing day-ahead demand, United can forgo pumping and other activities.
United also developed another project to predict the storm drains most at risk for flooding and debris clogs. By pinpointing the trouble spots, it can avoid overflows in the future.
The focus on data-and the results-have also allowed United to expand its IT and technical staff. You don't see that every day.
You'll see more innovations coming out of the water industry as well. Tasmania Water discussed at PI World in San Francisco is using the PI System to keep prize oyster beds safe. Who knows--a few years from know people may have a hard time remembering when water wasn't at the cutting edge. (Note: the hand model in the photo is Laurence Kerans, who helped drive the application process.)