UK government investing in water sector AI

An overview of artificial intelligence (AI) and its emergence in the water and wastewater sector was the focus of British Water webinar, featuring speakers from Ofwat, Thames Water, and across the supply chain, including consultancies Jacobs and ExploreAI.

The recent briefing, AI Explained, on 3 Oct 2023, explored the emergence and adoption of AI in the water and wastewater industry. The session was designed for those new to AI to understand data landscape, companies looking to implement AI, or those hoping to gain knowledge about this topic.     

Speakers included Caroline Gregory, director of IT, digital and estates at Ofwat, who discussed AI and the open data strategy; Jethro Yates from Thames Water, George Schley from engineering consultancy Jacobs and Tania Flasck, Byron Helmbold from ExploreAI, which builds AI-driven software and digital twins for global companies. 

Caroline Gregory, director of IT, digital and estates at Ofwat

“With big data, cloud computing and other advancements, AI has become more accessible. The potential for AI to help drive and support economies is already recognised across government and industry,” said Gregory. “There is a widespread commitment from the government to support and invest in the water sector use of AI.” According to a report by Frost & Sullivan, the global AI market for the water sector is expected to reach $2.6bn by 2027.

Ofwat £200m innovation fund supports solutions that address these water sector challenges. An AI project backed by this fund is Safe Smart Systems (SSS) which is led by Anglian Water in partnership with Jacobs, Skanska, Imperial College, Microsoft, the University of Sheffield, and South West Water, Portsmouth Water and Affinity Water.

Schley spoke about the £7.5m SSS project, which is developing an AI-powered system to improve the long-term operational resilience of water systems in climate change and population growth. The system will identify, predict, and manage vulnerabilities to reduce leakage, interruptions, and pressure issues across the water cycle. The project is said to be a step towards autonomous control of water systems in the UK.