Report shows how leakage technology is advancing

The Future of Leakage, a deep-dive leakage report from leakage solutions group Ovarro was launched at Global Leakage Summit, London, UK which took place on 5 and 6 Sep 2023. Its technology leader Barbara Hathaway shares how technologies continue to advance as any water loss through leaking pipes is unacceptable in the eyes of the public.

Water utilities have been tackling water losses over decades but the world population is increasing and with this, demand for water, all while we are experiencing more severe droughts. Ideally, in the future, water utilities and municipalities should be aiming for near zero leakage from water networks. To achieve such a goal, water utilities need to continue to invest in innovation, support new ideas and share findings. When it comes to leakage reduction, the sector has not always got it right.

Around 70 years ago, it was thought one solution was to replace corroding metal water mains with new plastic pipes, which would never leak. We now know this is not the case. Plastic pipes can leak and the noise the escaping water generates is quieter, lower frequency and harder to detect than that from a metal pipe.

This created a new challenge, but in response, technology adapted to focus on internal pipe sensors to listen for noise. One example is Ovarro Enigma lift-and-shift logger, which was designed 18 years ago, but remains a go-to device for leakage technicians, providing overnight correlation results to pinpoint precise leak locations. Technology continues to advance. In 2022, LeakNavigator launched as the UK’s first fully-managed, fixed network leakage service.

Globally, more utilities are adopting data-powered tools, which are transforming network management. Products that apply artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), as well as cloud-based, as-a-service models, are additions to our portfolio, developed in collaboration with the sector.

Research is also underway into prioritising leak noise, allowing operators to understand which noises picked up by acoustic loggers are most likely to be large leaks. Ovarro LeakHub system has already been updated to filter electrical interference generated noise and other manmade sounds such as pressure reducing valves, mechanical water meters and air conditioning units.

The last two years have been challenging for industries that rely on electronics, with supply chain shortages impacting many technology companies, including Ovarro. These problems are starting to ease and we can renew focus on R&D in next generation products for leakage reduction.

Water utilities investing in new leakage technology should consider all available options and business cases, rather than take the default view that lower cost or higher volume is best.

A few strategically placed devices in problem areas could provide a better return than flooding an area with a single product and expecting it to solve every problem. The water crisis is forcing us to answer new questions urgently, but it is not a solo mission. Liaison between utilities, suppliers, innovators, academics and governments will be the way to drive through new ideas at the rate we need. Technology, used in the right way, has never been more critical.

Barbara Hathaway, Ovarro technology leader