Using self-learning technology to bring to life the benefits of Systems Thinking

We are the first water company in the UK to introduce large-scale artificial intelligence into operational systems.

Every day we pump water from our service reservoirs to customers. The calculation of pump schedules (when to turn pumps on and off) is manually intensive and requires skilled analysts for several hours a day. This manual process cannot cope with the many variables required to make balanced decisions, and energy use is too complex to calculate manually. Our water leadership team recognised the need to find a better solution and this was set as one of the challenges in our Innovation Lab.

We worked with a Canadian start-up company, EMAGIN, through our Innovation Lab last year to apply HARVI (Hybrid Adaptive Real-time Virtual Intelligence), a real-time analytics dashboard, to our water network pump scheduling.

HARVI uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to assess vast amounts of data on a wide range of factors such as weather, demand for water, pump performance and electricity prices.

This is used to help our system operators make decisions on the most cost-effective and efficient way to run water pumps, detect burst pipes and minimise the risk of discoloured water.

We tested this innovative technology in Oldham, Greater Manchester – one of the 33 zones in our region. Oldham was chosen as we needed a test site that was large enough to deliver real benefit to customers, had an identified opportunity for delivering further efficiencies, and already had Systems Thinking capability. Oldham District Metered Zone produces 55 mega litres of drinking water a day for over 180,000 domestic customers, has Systems Thinking capability by way of remote monitoring and control technology, and is one of our high energy intensive zones. In the 12-week trial, taking into account the optimum times to pump water across our network, HARVI demonstrated it could achieve energy savings of 22 per cent.

Water networks are complex systems, and technology like this is going to play an integral role in the further development of our Systems Thinking approach, helping us make more sense and better use of large amounts of data. It will also free up our people to be more proactive, which will have a direct impact on levels of service for customers. Water companies need to be thinking in this way and embracing new technology if we are to meet customers' expectations on value and reliability.

HARVI has shown huge potential to help reduce our operational costs through the Innovation Lab pilot phase. We are now working with EMAGIN to develop a plan to roll this technology out in phases to the rest of our water network.

HARVI has shown huge potential to help reduce our operational costs