Every Drop Counts: Spain and Italy Get Serious with Leakage Management

12 Oct 2023  |  Keith Hays

While the broader public thinks of “water” as a single issue, in reality, water is more complex. The 2023 AquaTech trade show and conference in Amsterdam addressed a broad range of water issues organized into four key segments: Clean Water, Wastewater, Industrial & Corporate Water, and Digital Water. Water scarcity, partly due to water loss, is perhaps the most pressing global issue which straddles both the clean and digital domains of the water industry. 

The epic drought afflicting Southern Europe over the past three years has put water resources and availability into the spotlight. A key piece of water resource availability is water loss. The focus on water scarcity demands an ‘all of the above’ approach to tackling real water losses, which stand at around 26% on average across Europe. While the U.K. has led the way with leakage reduction commitments, including 50% reduction targets by 2050, it is Southern Europe’s scarcity-driven initiatives that promise substantive investment in the medium term.

Two key national programs in Italy and Spain, PNRR and PERTE, respectively, will channel over €2 billion into the water sector over the next five years. A large chunk of these funds will go toward pipe replacements and customer meters, but municipal governments are prompted to develop more sophisticated, longer-term leakage management strategies—and this is triggering a broader move toward digitalization. Companies are leveraging four key components as part of their drinking water network asset management strategies: 

municipal governments are prompted to develop more sophisticated, longer-term leakage management strategies—and this is triggering a broader move toward digitalization.

  1. Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. Developing detailed, updated inventories of underground assets is fundamental to moving forward with water loss reduction.  Beyond major metropolises, many of Europe’s water distribution networks require detailed mapping as the first step to addressing leakage. Utilities including GUSA (Guipúzcoa), Aguasvira (Granada), and Aqualia (Vigo) have major mapping projects underway as an example.
  2. Network sectorization. Subdividing networks into smaller districts facilitates pinpointing trouble spots. Either through physical district metering areas (DMAs) or virtual ones, this is the next step to zeroing in on network trouble spots to stabilize leakage levels. Sectorization is a massive priority for Italian utilities, currently at over 40% non-revenue water nationally, with system operators such as Acquedotto Lucano Spa pursuing DMA set-up as part of broader digitalization strategies.
  3. Leak detection. After networks have been mapped and subdivided it comes down to pinpointing leaks. Traditionally reliant on mobile acoustic detection, multiple innovations over the past decade have greatly improved the accuracy, applicability, and cost—in effect turning long-running, troublesome leaks into shorter-term, manageable issues within a given DMA. Firms such as Asterra provide satellite-based imaging of major leaks, while players such as Ovarro can capture leaks on PVC pipes.
  4. Network monitoring. Once DMAs are stabilized, and the low-hanging fruit of water reduction has been captured, network operators must turn to longer-term sustainability of their leakage levels through monitoring, primarily through fixed acoustic data loggers. 

All four of these solution segments are set to see steady growth in a global market worth up to US$1 billion annually by 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 14% according to Bluefield’s Global Digital Water Forecasts.

We were pleased to see that the Aquatech conference organizers dove deeper into the water issues that matter the most. The Bluefield Research team enjoyed moderating discussions on key innovations and the state of the leakage management market at the Digital Water Pavilion in Amsterdam.

Contact Us to speak with our team of water experts and discuss these key water topics further.

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