Yorkshire Water - driving innovation

Innovation is fast becoming Yorkshire Water's middle name as it strives for zero interruptions to supply, make better use of automation, and ultimately improve customer service. How does the utility expect to achieve that?

It is a well known fact that Yorkshire Water (YW) had a hard time during the mid-1990s as it was forced to tanker in water because of a severe shortage.

The company was pilloried by the media while YW staff were ridiculed in the street by the public.

Just over a decade later, it is a memory that still haunts the company and one that drives its determination to be the "best water company in the UK".

YW is now one of the most efficient water utilities in the country but it refuses to standstill - it is always on the look-out for innovative technology that will keep it in the forefront.

That means consulting other industries and even dusting off old equipment and putting it to use again.

The company's latest initiative - Project Clearwater - centres on improving customer service by seeking out and designing technology that will minimise impact on customers. YW's goal is to achieve zero customer impacts by 2010.

Simon Barnes, who heads the Clearwater project, explains: "Tackling problems before they impact on customers is at the heart of the Clearwater project. We don't want to have to interrupt our customers so this is why we are designing and implementing new technologies that will minimise the impact we currently have on them."

The water utility is working closely with it contractors, including RPS Water Service, Laing O'Rourke, Balfour Beatty and Morrison, to make the most of implementing the technology.

No-dig solutions
The company is even looking to other industries, such as the dentistry, agriculture, medical and food sectors, to identify technologies that can work for the water industry. "It would be very naïve to stop with the water industry," says Barnes.

This technology includes an Endoscope - a camera traditionally used in surgery and that can be inserted into a pipe to identify any potential problems, and the need for any maintenance.

YW would have had to dig up a road in order to find the problem but this technology has reduced the number of excavations carried out.

YW has set itself targets. These are:
  • Zero excavations
  • Zero traffic disruption
  • Zero interruptions
Other technology that YW has been trialling is already starting to have an impact.

No-dig techniques that do not require excavations include:
  • Valve repacking from the surface
  • Flow/pressure tests using the stop-tap bypass system
  • Hydrant renewal within the existing hydrant chamber
  • External meter fits onto existing stop-taps, which gives the ability to isolate customer supply without removing the meter
Non-disruptive techniques comprise:
  • Under pressure pipe sampling - a small coupon of pipework is removed with affecting customer supply
  • The Endoscope
  • Stop tap bypass which allows both major planned works and unplanned repair schemes without interrupting customer supplies
  • Hydrant mini line stop - a technique that allows the introduction of a stopper into the hydrant riser under pressure, thereby facilitating the removal and replacement of the hydrant without interrupting customer supplies
Techniques to minimise disruption include:
  • Whirlwind by air whereby vortex technology blows pieces of flint through a water main at up to 600mph, dislodging the natural build-up of sediment and allowing water mains to cleaned more quickly
  • Vacuum excavation, which is used where accurate leak location supports a far smaller excavation and the application of a of a repair clamp from the surface
  • Leak finder - a new technique developed by YW partner H2O that allows the accurate location of leaks on customer supply pipes, enabling repairs using the smallest possible excavation
    * Web cap, which is a simple technique to remove ferrule connections from mains under pressure, instead of the traditional encapsulation method which is more invasive and expensive
In 2004/5, YW recorded about 700,000 supply interruptions which led to 400,000 calls from customers and 1,400 written complaints. The likely outturn for 2006/7 is expected to about 300,000 supply interruptions and half that number for 2007/8.

The number of size, number and duration of excavations has also reduced. Over the past 12 months, YW and its partners have reduced the total number of excavations from 68,000-plus to just over 60,000 while the average size is now 2.2m2 - it was 2.6m2 - and the duration has dropped from ten days to just over five.

Preventive action
YW owns, operates and maintains more than 31,500km of water mains throughout the region. These have to be kept in the best possible condition in order to provide high quality water to 4.5 million customers.

If these fail, it can lead to significant disruption. Mark Worsfold, of YW's Optimal Service Network (OSN), comments: "Occasionally they do."

He says that there are about 7,000 to 7,500 bursts a year caused, for instance, by aging pipes and ground moving. Traditionally, YW has relied on customers to let it know when there has been a problem.

OSN and Distribution Optimisation (DO) are the part of Project Clearwater that aims to address potential issues within the water supply system before customers realise that there is a problem.

YW has introduced Real Time Network (RTnet), a new system designed to meet these needs. RTnet has been trialled in the Harrogate and Dales area in recent months.

Nearly 500 battery-powered RTnet devices were installed in the Harrogate area which transmitted pressure, and flow data every 30 minutes back to YW's regional
operational control centre (ROCC).

Once a RTnet device, which uses GPRS technology, detects a drop in flow or pressure, an alarm is sent to ROCC where experts analyse the data to determine the cause of the alarm.

The constant flow of information gives YW the time to attend to a potential issue before customers become aware of the problem.

YW says that the devices have already reduced the end to end time taken to repair a burst.

When the timescales were compared for two similar bursts in the same area, the repair that took place before the Harrogate trial took four hours longer that the burst during the trial.

Yorkshire Water has developed a clear understanding of how the network operates and, therefore, which alarms are "ghost" and which require further investigation.

The RTnet devices are currently being rolled out to other areas of the region.

YW is also using extensive technology to maintain the water pressure in the mains at the right level.

It says that this will ensure a good service without the pressure being unnecessarily high, which can lead to bursts and pipe deterioration.

It is investing more than £4M to reduce the average zone night pressure, which is currently one of the highest in the UK. This work will reduce overall demand and has been a key enabler for the rationalisation of water treatment works.

The water utility is already seeking ways of improving the RTnet system and is looking at Smart Alarms, an intelligent alarm system that uses statistical analysis to interpret when a pressure or flow has stepped out of the norm.

This system will enable YW to detect issues even quicker.

Asset capabilities
YW is devising future focused strategies to develop asset capabilities that will meet the demands of the 21st century. R3 - robust, resilient and rationalised - is a new sustainable distribution strategy.

Peter Coddington, who is responsible for distribution rationalisation at YW, says it is looking to maximise the benefits of new techniques.

He explains: "We need to understand why things fail. We also need to think about reducing carbon emissions."

The company expects to achieve this through the research and development of new and innovative techniques to increase the understanding of the distribution system.

This increased understanding together with full use of the new technology currently being used will enable the water utility to rethink completely how distribution systems should be designed for the future.

A rationalisation of assets is something that DO will be developing. Coddington says that existing assets were not necessarily designed for the task being asked of them now.

Service reservoirs, for instance, may not be needed. With new telemetry technology the speed or response to system problems can negate the need for additional storage.

Coddington says that YW is starting this process with a project designed to visualise" the network.

The company is working with the University of Leeds, one of its academic service partners, to investigate new network modelling techniques that will give it a detailed understanding of asset failure impacts and features of a network that provide resilience to such features.

This computer modelling will enable YW's analysts to prepare detailed responses in advance that could outline the best procedure to take following a failure.

It will also help direct future investments in the network to deliver an increasingly robust network while reducing operating costs.

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