Leaks Remain a Huge Problem for the Water Industry: Is Innovation Changing the Game?

26 Feb 2018  |  Eric Bindler

I am excited to attend the 9th edition of the Global Leakage Summit, taking place in London, U.K., in just a few weeks. I was heartened to see a conference dedicated specifically to this important subject.

Leakage continues to plague the water industry. Bluefield’s analysis of the leakage management strategies of European utilities suggested that on average, non-revenue water remains over 20% – a number low in comparison to other markets, globally. This represented over US$10.4 billion in lost revenues, annually, across the 46 utilities studied.

Solutions that help utilities address water leakage provide more than just reductions in water loss. From reducing supply-side stress and deferring CAPEX spend, improving pump optimization and energy efficiency, identifying transients and early-warning systems for burst reduction, and enabling OPEX improvements in active leakage control, the solutions used to tackle leakage greatly improve resilience and long-term sustainability of our water supplies.

Cherry picking from some main themes of the event, here’s a few thoughts on what I’m hoping to learn from the event.

Can Innovation Help to Drive Down Leakage?

Considering the mix of vendors and utilities presenting (and sponsoring) the conference, I’d imagine that this theme may touch on a common theme – technology readiness, utility weariness. With that in mind, it’s always very interesting to hear about teams that are able to break through this divide, embedding successful innovations programs within the utility, or finding new ways to finance innovations.

I’m excited to hear about Anglian Water’s Shop Window project and gain insights into the technologies it has tested on its network. I’m also keen to learn more about HWM Water’s deployment of acoustic loggers across Affinity Water’s network, and hope both will shed some light on the business case and ROI of a project of this magnitude.

It will be interesting to hear if innovations in financing are explored, such as environmental impact bonds. DC Water provided a great use-case for how EIBs can de-risk innovations for risk-averse utilities, in that case for green infrastructure. I’m eager to see an EIB structured around non-revenue water, or infrastructure leakage index, as the key performance metric, get announced in 2018.

Can Smart Metering Make A Difference?

Speaking on this topic will be a representative from Thames Water, a water service company with a lot of share on the topic of leakage and smart metering. Firstly, Thames Water was slapped with a £8.6 million fine in 2017 for missing its leakage target for the first time in 11 years. In response, the company set aside additional CAPEX for trunk main replacement, while setting out a roadmap to improve how its existing response strategy is deployed and configured (see exhibit below) and initiating some new innovations programs.

Thames Water is also in the midst of a huge smart meter rollout, with plans to deploy up to 3,000,000 meters across London and the surrounding area by 2030. It will be interesting to see how smart meters have helped the company identify customer-side leaks and promote conservation. Potentially more interesting will be to learn how Thames has been able to take advantage of higher frequency, real-time consumption data into existing water balance leakage identification techniques, improving reliance on statistical consumption models.

Data (and Leak Management) a Core Component of Smart Infrastructure Strategies

While still a fragmented competitive landscape, the leakage category within smart water has seen increased M&A activity, highlighted by Xylem’s recent acquisition of Pure Technologies. The deal, which aligns well with its complimentary acquisitions of Sensus and Visenti (in 2016), reinforces the growing importance that larger water companies are placing on data and analytical platform solutions in their offerings to municipal water utilities. The move gives Xylem a portfolio of complimentary solutions addressing aging infrastructure, from water main assessment and monitoring, smart metering and sensor hardware and communications, and advanced data and analytics platforms.

Leakage is a key focus of ours at Bluefield Research. We wrote a whole report about how Europe’s utilities are addressing leakage, and leakage management is one of our key research themes. It will be great to hear how thought leaders and companies are positioning to address this key issue at the upcoming Global Leakage Summit.

Please send me an email at, or comment below, if you want to connect during the event.