By Mick Dawson, Consultancy Director
With water companies’ business plans now submitted to OFWAT for scrutiny, Water UK unveiled its Manifesto for Water, highlighting company proposals for major investment.
AMP7, the seventh Asset Management Period of the UK water industry, is due to run from 2020 to 2025 and will address the challenges facing the water industry, such as the increasing population and the resulting growing importance of protecting the environment. The regulator, OFWAT, has set highly challenging financial performance, customer engagement and innovation requirements.
£50 billion competitive landscape
With water companies collectively intending to spend £50 billion on improving services, through asset optimisation by upgrading existing and building new infrastructure, an increasingly competitive contractor landscape will be needed to provide solutions to the challenges identified. Working with the right people, across a blend of water industry experience and fresh ideas, will be a key strategy.
Boosting resilience and reducing leakage is a key priority for many of the water companies, with the objective of overcoming supply chain challenges and delivering a better quality, more reliable water and wastewater service for customers. Resilience can be built in across the water asset lifecycle - from optimising networks and structures at the design stage, to making better use of existing structures or developing smart network infrastructure for the future.
The Thames Tideway Scheme and Birmingham Resilience Project are good examples of major infrastructure investment by the water companies to secure long-term supply. When constructing new schemes, or in fact reinstating damaged assets, hydraulic physical modelling and testing is a well-established way to identify potential problems and inform improvements that can be made to original designs before costly construction work begins. Such work can reveal many areas for improvement that can significantly impact the long-term operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the scheme.
Raw water abstraction and transport, from reservoirs and rivers is highly dependent on environmental factors such as drought and flood, which can result in huge changes in flow conditions over very short periods of time. Again, hydraulic physical modelling, for example of river intakes, can identify significant improvements that could be achieved through modifications of the original design to ensure optimal performance and efficiency over a range of flow conditions.
Changes to the ecology of rivers, such as increasing levels of pesticides, increases the risk of contamination and impacts operational resilience. Auditing existing works can identify areas of improvement to dosing, mixing and control that can avoid or minimise water quality incidents. For example, the most efficient points of application and mixing technology for pH control, coagulation and flocculation.
Looking beyond AMP7
But these solutions are focusing on the established methods of water treatment and supply. Even fully optimised conventional treatment with automated control consumes prodigious quantities of chemicals. As population growth and climate change increase demand and restrict supply, what can companies do to harness technology to improve sustainability whilst meeting all other obligations? Novel non-chemical drinking water processes, energy efficient desalination and the production of potable water directly from wastewater all offer potential solutions if and when adequately developed for wide scale implementation.
The water industry in the UK is highly regulated, but isn’t it time that those of us who supply services into the sector, take the innovative approach and start thinking beyond the norm?