Trends in leak detection for 2021: data analysis, sensors and communications

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDA) No. 6 aims to provide access to clean water and sanitation for the entire population within the next ten years, according to its 2030 Agenda, yet the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 in our lives has jeopardized this objective and has heightened the need to invest heavily in the relationship between the “ecological transition and digital transformation” and to adopt the trends in leak detection for 2021.

The loss of drinking water from hydraulic networks is not only a poisoned arrow for the ecosystem, but also constitutes an economic loss for the water utility, since each liter of water fed into the network for consumption must be collected, made drinkable, and pumped through thousands of meters of water networks.

Likewise, not detecting and repairing a leak in a hydraulic infrastructure as soon as possible can lead to a critical situation if it becomes a burst water pipe that causes damage to civil infrastructure or a disruption in the public water supply. This phenomenon is especially critical during crisis episodes triggered by natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, etc.), or during a lockdown such as the one experienced in recent months around large parts of the world.

Therefore, in 2021, new leak detection methods that go beyond sectorization should be consolidated as a first step towards reducing the size of inspection areas and enhancing water loss reduction processes. The technological advances in sensors and communications are bringing us closer to our ultimate goal; to use water as efficiently as possible. These are the trends in leak detection for 2021.

1 – Locating leaks using mathematical models and algorithms

trends in leak detection for 2021

A new alternative to sectorization is locating leaks through the analysis of big data, applying mathematical modelling and algorithms to data processing. It should be remembered that sectorization of the drinking water supply network involves high economic costs that include not only the investment in metering and shut-off elements, but also the necessary work required to install them. In addition, sectorization can affect water quality by breaking its mesh network.

This new approach to managing hydraulic efficiency in drinking water supply networks is also more accurate, as it reduces the size of the inspection area the leak is located in.

For this process to be successful, data is required to develop the mathematical model (GIS, demand distribution and operational control) to assess the feasibility of installing flow meters at strategic points and to monitor night-time consumers. The value of this system is enormous, but in order to obtain results, utility managers will have to implement advanced software so that the section of the network where the possible leak(s) is/are located can be pinpointed.

The first trials in Spain and the positive results obtained have attracted international interest, and although other companies can be expected to replicate them in the future, few will be successful, as it is essential to have a multitask team on hand that can steer implementation and subsequent operations, as mathematical models, algorithms and hydraulics are three vectors that must go hand in hand.

2 – Acoustic leak detection

Another trend that we expect to see gaining ground in the coming year is the permanent installation of hydrophones and integrating the data obtained from them into platforms used to manage water efficiency as a further step towards pinpointing the location of leaks. These electronic devices, installed at predefined points in the network depending on the material, record the night-time noise produced by water. The aim is to send this data to water efficiency management platforms which can integrate data from different utility indicators and thus be able to identify the specific point in which a leak is located.

Another trend that is already on the table is the transformation of household water meters into sensors that help to monitor any anomalies that may occur in the network in real time. Thus, by taking advantage of existing infrastructure and using data processing and algorithms, each customer would be helping to detect possible water losses.

In the case of water pipelines or large diameter pipes, there are already viable solutions on the market. Leading this race is a network inspection system with wireless, in-line, neutral buoyancy technology for the detection of water leaks. This equipment detects leaks by pinpointing their exact location, and evaluates the network, generating valuable information for the asset management decision-making process.

3 – Data centralization on a single platform

Advances in telecommunication infrastructures, with the advent of 5G, are leading us to a scenario of digital connectivity that breaks down barriers in terms of the number of linked sensors and the communication between them in real time.

Progress in sensor technology to reduce water losses only makes sense if the data acquired can then be processed to make better decisions. It is increasingly necessary for any type of service indicator such as smart metering, work orders, GIS, smart SCADA and billing to be housed on the same platform.

In 2021, water utilities will be focusing on centralized, agnostic management of all their data, extracting as much value as possible from it in order to reduce costs and use water more responsibly and sustainably. To quote Idrica CEO Jaime Barba, “digital transformation is a reality. Those who have not jumped onboard it are already too late”.

Idrica’s Global Water Trends 2021 report provides a comprehensive list of trends for the industry, including the trends in leak detection for 2021.

Josep Reguart, Leaks Specialist, Idrica

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