A case study on South East Water’s Network Leak Detection program. As an industry, water is grappling with macro-scale challenges. Climate change impacts and increased demand for water mean that utilities are transforming to ensure sufficient supply into the future.
As one of the country’s biggest water suppliers and wastewater managers, South East Water delivers more than 136 billion litres of drinking water and collects over 108 billion litres of wastewater annually in Melbourne’s south-east. To ensure long-term water security, enhance customer experience and optimise assets and operations, South East Water embarked on the transformation to a digital utility — bringing together people, processes and technology to scale the deployment of advanced sensors across the network and transitioning to a data-driven organisation, backed by a culture of innovation.
As one of South East Water’s top 10 capital projects, the Digital Utility program delivers on the utility’s aims to get the basics right, keep customers informed in a timely manner, improve customer experience and value, and support the community and environment. Through digital meters, South East Water is making a difference in the lives of customers and saving water.
From digital meters to advanced sensors
The Digital Utility program is a business model for improved operation and customer service provision, for now and into the future. It will leverage granular network, consumption, and operational data to support better services and provide greater value to customers and stakeholders. The focus of this transformational program is to deliver sustainable value to customers, through improved services and lower costs over the long term.
A fundamental use case of the Digital Utility program is the reduction of non-revenue water, or leaks across the utility network.
While Australian utilities enjoy a relatively low level of non-revenue water on a global scale, there are huge benefits if we can further reduce even a small percentage of non-revenue water.
General Manager, Digital Utility
An initial focus of the program was the deployment of digital meters, which provided South East Water with a unique opportunity to integrate additional sensors to gain better visibility — not only of customer-side usage and leaks, but also of leaks across the utility network. This technological advance is providing South East Water teams and customers with more granular and immediate information about water consumption and losses.
Learnings from early deployments
“Possibly the biggest step change that we’re seeing is embedding additional sensors in digital meters. These are just meters that go on customer properties, but they’ve got miniaturised embedded sensors in them to detect leaks on the network side,” Mr Forster-Knight said.
South East Water currently uses a range of solutions to detect network leaks, with Sotto® providing a unique opportunity to economically deploy a leak detection solution, at scale. Leveraging the communications and battery of the digital meter, the solution detects vibrations (while minimising false positives) and sends predetermined alerts daily. Heat maps enable operators to detect potential leaks and narrow down the likely location.
With over 30,000 Sotto® enabled digital meters currently deployed, the detection and location of water leaks and potential bursts is shifting from reactive to proactive as the sensors are confirmed to detect 88% of network leaks weeks, if not months, ahead of traditional equipment.
An independent report extrapolated trial data to confirm that deploying Sotto® in every digital meter (for suitable sites) at scale would achieve at least a one percent reduction in non-revenue water losses, equating to 1.63 GL annually at South East Water. These savings are the result of detecting previously undetectable leaks and detecting leaks early.
A network-scale solution
Results of early deployments and analysis undertaken to determine the benefits and economic viability of deploying network leak detection at scale were key inputs into the business case for Digital Utility, a fundamental pillar of South East Water’s Price Submission 2023–28. South East Water will now progress to roll out digital meters, 600,000 of which will be integrated with Sotto® to be deployed over the 5-year period.
To support the utility in managing data from the rapid deployment of Sotto® sensors, South East Water plans to deploy advanced analytics to automate the process of leak detection and location. By training a machine-learning algorithm, it also aims to understand leak profiles to provide insights to operators and maintenance teams about the likely leak scenario, ahead of them attending sites to pinpoint and fix leaks.
This is game-changing technology, supporting South East Water to deliver on its commitment to achieve sustainable value to customers, through improved services and lower costs over the long term, while protecting our precious water resources.