United Utilities rolls out AI across entire network after slashing energy usage

Water company United Utilities is set to roll out an energy flexibility platform which incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) to cover its entire water network, after a three-month trial generated energy savings of 22%.

Called HARVI and produced by Canadian technology firm EMGAIN, the AI platform works by monitoring and managing electricity demand and generation within pumps, motors and biogas combined heat and power (CHP) engines to optimise energy use. 

During a 12-week trial of HARVI at its facilities in Oldham, Greater Manchester, United Utilities found that the technology was successful at making decisions on the most cost-effective and efficient way to run pumps, detecting burst pipes and minimising the risk of water discolouration.

The Warrington-based company is set to complete the roll-out, which will cover all of its water treatment facilities in the North West of England, by the end of 2019.

“Water networks are complex systems, and technology like this is going to play an integral role in our drive towards ‘systems thinking’, helping us make more sense and better use of big data,” United Utilities chief executive Steve Fraser said.

“Water companies are going to have to start thinking in this way and embracing new technology if we are to meet customers’ expectations on value and reliability.”

Flexible futures

United Utilities claims that the roll-out will see the company become the first UK-based water firm to introduce AI into its operating systems on a large scale.

In recent months, the company has also trialled Open Energi’s Dynamic Demand 2.0 AI platform at two of its wastewater treatment plants in Bolton and Chorley, with plans in the pipeline to install the technology at six further facilities by the end of 2019. United Utilities estimates that this will create up to 8MW of demand flexibility.

The move to implement AI technology comes as United Utilities, which currently generates 21% of its electricity consumption through its own renewable arrays, strives to reduce customer bills by 10.5% in real terms by 2020. 

The company has committed to passing on the cost savings it makes through AI platform use on to its customers in the form of reduced water rates.

AI Drive

The move from United Utilities comes at a time when companies are beginning to harness AI in order to bolster their sustainability efforts.

Google, for example, recently began allowing its AI platform – rather than its staff – to directly control its data centre cooling system as a way of lowering emissions and energy consumption.  

The tech giant claims that the move, which has been implemented at multiple data centres, has delivered an average 30% reduction in energy consumption.  

Elsewhere, heavy building materials firm Aggregate Industries has also begun using Open Energi’s AI platform in a bid to create up to 4.5MW of demand flexibility.

In the transport sector, the likes of ferry firm Stena Line and budget airline Norwegian Air have both begun using AI to optimise travel routes for fuel efficiency in recent months. The latter estimates that installing AI software across its entire fleet of 160 aircraft will reduce its carbon emissions by 16,000 tonnes each year.

Sarah George

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