Tackling water leakage with flowmeter innovations

Although almost half of water companies in England and Wales will not be required to reduce their leakages before 2015, factors such as increasing water scarcity and worries over carbon emissions mean that water leakage is still a major driving force for developing future flowmetering processes and technologies. Tony Hoyle, ABB’s measurement product’s general manager, takes a look at some recent innovations that can help in the battle against leakage.

In recent years, great progress has been made in leakage management in the UK, with major utility companies undertaking massive programmes of mains improvement that have resulted in a dramatic reduction in leakage. Despite this, however, many leakage management programmes still tend to focus on resolving leaks that are likely to cause immediate problems, due to the need to conserve costs and balance manpower resources across other activities.

Though leakage can never be totally eliminated, it could be more tightly controlled. What is needed is greater innovation, involving not just the application of new technology, but also looking outside the water industry at best practices used in other industries to meet the same or similar challenges.

A recent example of this was Project Neptune, a joint partnership between Yorkshire Water, United Utilities, ABB, the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and seven UK universities. Working together, the project partners developed an automated leakage management system which combined up-to-the-minute pipeline data with artificial intelligence to continually monitor network performance.

The project aimed to help operators understand what is happening in their distribution networks and to let them  take a more informed approach to leakage detection. One of the key tools is an online hydraulic model that can interpret data from a few measurement points to infer the pressure and flow elsewhere in the system.

Its success has already been proven in 16 District Metering Areas (DMAs) throughout the Yorkshire Water catchment, with leaks now able to be spotted and repaired at a much earlier stage. The immediate benefits include the ability to better allocate repair teams and minimise disruption.

Electromagnetic flowmeters in use

District metering is often referred to as a key weapon in the war against leaks, but for it to be effective water operators should be utilising the right equipment. The last ten years has seen an increasing take-up of electromagnetic flowmeters over their traditional mechanical counterparts, as they offer an improved accuracy over a far superior range of flows. Mechanical meters also have issues of long-term reliability, with wear causing a progressive deterioration in performance, under-registration and eventual failure. 

A more robust metering regime could be deployed by utilising software-based verification tools. ABB’s CheckMaster field validation and CalMaster2 IRIS verification tools, for example, rely on ABB installing an electronic ‘fingerprint’ in its electromagnetic meters during calibration. This stores information about the magnetic circuit associated with the individual meter, and can then be checked against the meter’s current performance for signs of deterioration.

New technology which extends the reach of verification tools to mains and battery-powered flow meters could allow water companies and OFWAT to implement periodic verification of strategic DMA meters. This would provide an extra level of confidence in DMA leakage data.

Recent innovations

Installing and accessing DMA meters can be difficult, especially in busy urban areas where the ground is already crowded with an array of underground assets, or where a pipeline runs under a major road. Conversely, meters in remote areas may be nowhere near a potential power supply.

Recent innovations in remote power capabilities mean that not only has the battery life improved in most electromagnetic flowmeters, but some, like ABB’s AquaMaster 3, are now capable of running via solar or wind power. This means flowmeters can be sited pretty much anywhere.

Most electromagnetic flowmeters are now also available with GSM/SMS technology, enabling users to remotely access up-to-date information from anywhere around the world. Using the same technology as a mobile telephone, flowmeters can be contacted using a PC or laptop or through a mobile telephone via SMS messaging, so leakage managers can collect all the flow and pressure data from the night lines from the comfort of the office.

Operators can also remotely reconfigure and maintain units online, including adjusting the configuration, reading flow meter totals or performing diagnostic tests – all without the need to despatch an engineer or meter reader to carry out the work on site. Using SMS text messaging, operators can request updates on current flowmeter status simply by sending a text message to the flowmeter. Via this medium, operators can request and receive data on any of the meter parameters including flow rate, pressure, total water consumption, alarms and tariff totals.

Investing in the future

Electromagnetic flowmeters may not be suitable for all flow measurement, but new advances in their technology have made them an even greater ally for district metering applications. Renewable powered options significantly reduce the cost of ownership, while accuracy gives operators the ability to pinpoint areas where revenue is currently being lost. While there may be no immediate pressure to reduce leakage figures, it’s only a matter of time before it shoots up the public agenda, so the onus remains on water companies to invest in their future.


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