For utilities, water loss is more than a plague – it also represents lost revenue, cost recovery, capital needed to improve networks, and pressure on water supplies. Water loss, according to Will Maize from Water Finance and Management, very simply leaves the long-term sustainability of any water supply network – whether environmental, financial, or operational – at risk.
Around 17 trillion gallons (64.35 trillion litres) are lost every year in the United States (U.S.), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), costing the nation US$2.6 billion annually. And all this water is lost through the estimated 240,000 main breaks in the water piping that occur across the U.S. every year.
Thus, water loss and leakage management have risen as a major priority for water utilities that are looking into lowering the impact non-revenue water (NRW) has on capital and operational expenses. But the main challenge is mitigating the problem – utilities are forced to overcome these issues in an environment that is difficult to operate in, with aging infrastructure, falling revenues, population growth, and demands for improved services. Moreover, there is no one right answer, with solutions unique to each utility.
NRW is not just water lost in the distribution network – in fact, it is actually a combination of real and apparent water loss. Real water loss is physical water loss from leakage or a burst pipe, and can point to a distribution network’s inefficiency or badly maintained and aging infrastructure. Apparent losses, however, according to Will Maize, are not physical losses, but are instead a utility’s inefficiency in collecting data on water consumption and billing accuracy, among others.
But by and large, real water losses are the biggest challenges utilities have to address.
Although countries under water stress have emerged as leaders for water auditing, water sustainability, and target setting, there was no international standard to follow. The Water Loss Task Force from the International Water Association (IWA) only published the IWA Best Practice Water Balance and Performance Indicators in 1999, finally providing utilities with a standard to calculate NRW and its related components.
But even so, defining the components of NRW is the first step to improving and measuring water audits using the provided framework and definitions.
Image credit: Bluefield Research
Infrastructure and leakage
Designed to help utilities track their performances, the Infrastructure Leakage Index is a measurement of present real losses over a hypothetical minimum estimate, and is increasingly being deployed as a performance metric to track leakage in the U.S. Though it is less sensitive to fluctuations in water consumption than NRW, the Index can assist utilities in benchmarking operating performance on a global scale and context.
While it is growing, there is still a distinct lack of district metering configurations in immature leak detection markets, though it is common in mature leak detection markets much like the United Kingdom (U.K.). Since the 1980s when the U.K. began dividing districts into district metering areas (DMAs), it has become the global standard for good water management.
While smart solutions certainly provide many answers to numerous issues, the strategies involved must integrate various factors, such as sensors and data analytics, among many others.
A diverse range of solutions providers are moving their innovative technical solutions to the four main methods of curbing real water losses: Active leakage control, asset management, pressure management, and repair optimisation, of which three are notable.
And with smart solutions on the rise, Bluefield Research has made an estimate that the leakage management sector will have a total operational expense of over US$1 billion by 2026 in the U.S. alone.
Moreover, in terms of related infrastructure such as asset condition assessment and pipe monitoring, Bluefield has put forth a prediction that the market will double by 2026 as utilities with financial limitations look into extending asset life and deferring intensive capital pipe replacements while also making informed and data-driven maintenance decisions proactively. In total, this paradigm shift will push an investment of US$2.7 billion between 2017 and 2026.
Mergers and acquisitions
While the water sector is still very much fragmented and competitive, it has seen a sharp rise in merger and acquisition (M&A) activity recently, with Xylem Inc.’s takeover of Pure Technologies in December 2017 one of the more recent occurrences, and the giant has also acquired Sensus and Visenti, showing the importance large water companies place in water data and analytics management.
According to Will Maize, further market consolidation is expected to quicken over the coming three to five years as technological firms look to strengthen their records and industrial players seek to complement their hardware solutions with software and data analytics.
Source: Water Finance and Management