Water under pressure: three BIG challenges facing the utility companies
In a country like Britain where the next downpour is seldom far away, you would think that managing the water supply would be a doddle. Indeed, most of the time we turn on our taps and empty our sinks without a second thought for where the water is coming from or disappearing to, such is the efficiency of our water utility companies.
But such service does not come easily. The water companies are under increasing pressure to meet our expectations and those of the regulators, with some major pain points to overcome in order to do so.
UK water companies have to comply with the demands of not one but three regulatory bodies: Ofwat, the Drinking Water Inspectorate and the Environment Agency. The latter is particularly concerned with two issues: pollution and climate change.
Water is one industry that is more of a victim than a perpetrator when it comes to climate change. With demand increasing due to a rising population, global warming is threatening supply, with water companies having to tackle the looming spectre of demand outstripping supply some time in the next 20 years if sufficient changes are not made.
As well as the droughts of recent years, heavy flooding has been another consequence of climate change, posing another problem for the water companies. Flooding increases the likelihood of environmental disasters, such as sewage leaks, for which the Environment Agency will prosecute the water company concerned and heavy fines are imposed.
Water companies are investing heavily in environmental sustainability and technology designed to reduce water consumption but there is an ongoing struggle that requires field staff to be equipped with the tech tools to carry out their work without interruption, often in rugged terrain and bad weather.
From an operational efficiency perspective, the challenge facing water companies is to find a way to continue to supply the flow of clean water customers expect while upgrading an ageing infrastructure, fixing leaks, mitigating the risk of sewage escapes and enabling customers to be more efficient in their water usage.
Repairing leaking pipes in the field is a major priority for water companies. It is one that requires significant manpower and the technology to detect leakages and manage their repair with minimal delay. The incentive is the triple whammy of reducing the volume of non-revenue water (water that a is lost before it reaches the customer), thereby enabling a reduction in water bills and increasing the available supply.
In 2019, the water sector committed to make bills affordable for all poor households, to triple the rate of leakage reduction by 2030 and to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030. This was a timely move, in the face of growing criticism from both sides of the political divide.
The private water companies are acutely aware that they could have their position removed at any time, should a Labour government come in and renationalise the industry, as it has pledged to do. The pressure is on to prove that the current privatised model works – and is the best way to meet the challenges laid out above.
In order to win that argument, water companies are working hard to address the threats posed by rising demand, climate change and environmental insecurity. The more efficiently they can work, the less down time they have to endure due to failed tools and the more reliable the technology they’re given to work with, the better chance they will have of delivering the smooth flowing services we all expect.
Header image source: Dusan Petkovic/shutterstock.com
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