Distinctive Group

With the water demand gap widening, best practice and innovation in asset management has a key role to play, says Lila Thompson, chief executive of British Water.

The demand gap in the water sector refers to the difference between the amount of water available and the amount of water needed to meet current and future demands. As a growing population and climate change place increasing pressure on water resources, there is the risk of an ever-widening gap between supply and demand.

Best practice in asset management can play a crucial role in helping the water sector bridge this gap by extending asset life, reducing water losses, improving water use efficiency and more efficient resource allocation.

At British Water’s International Conference, which took place on 19 February in London, Minister for Water, Robbie Moore MP, addressed the issue of the demand gap in the sector and called for greater collaboration and innovation in finding solutions.

During his keynote address, Moore said, “Growing demand for water and more intensive periods of drought are projected to create a supply demand gap if we don’t improve water efficiency and invest in new water resource infrastructure. In England, the Environment Agency’s review of draft regional resource plans found that by 2050 an additional 4,000 million litres of water per day is needed to meet future demand pressures.”

Moore advised tackling this issue must be delivered through a combination of demand management measures, with regulation also playing a key role, as the Government set new legally binding targets to reduce the use of public water supply.

Of course, the demand gap is not just an issue in the UK. The world is facing an imminent water crisis, with demand expected to outstrip the supply of fresh water by 40% by the end of this decade, according to Turning the Tides, a landmark report published last year by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water.

This report only serves to further highlight the urgent need for proactive and ambitious approaches to water management. While there is much work to be done, here in the UK and across the world, change is already underway.

The global water sector is witnessing a surge in innovative solutions aimed at improving asset management. These advancements fall into four main categories:

Advanced sensing and monitoring: This involves using technologies like fibre-optic cables, acoustic analysis, satellite data, and real-time sensor networks to detect leaks and their size, assess infrastructure health, and monitor water quality and scarcity.

Artificial intelligence and machine-learning: AI algorithms are being used to predict equipment failures, assess asset risks, automate leak detection, and forecast water demand. This allows for preventive maintenance, prioritised interventions, and optimised resource allocation.

Digital twins and decision support systems: Creating digital replicas of physical assets enables simulating scenarios and testing strategies before implementation. Decision support systems integrate data from various sources to provide actionable insights for asset management decisions.

Sustainable materials and technologies: Research across the supply chain and academia is ongoing in developing self-healing materials for pipes, using biodegradable materials in infrastructure, and improving desalination technologies. These advancements aim to reduce water loss, minimise environmental impact, and offer solutions for water scarcity.

British Water’s recently launched Asset Management Focus Group is exploring best practice in asset management to provide a holistic approach to optimising water infrastructure, minimising losses, and promoting efficient water use. By implementing these strategies while keeping abreast of technological developments in this field, the water sector can effectively bridge the gap between water supply and demand, ensuring sustainable water resources for future generations.

To find out more about the focus group visit: britishwater.co.uk/page/UKForum