Aspirations drive innovation at Anglian Water

Water supply


The UK’s Anglian Water has set aspirational targets that provide goals for its innovation programme. Keith Hayward heard the company’s Head of Innovation, Steve Kaye, talk about some of the developments that will deliver improvements in leakage and supply network management.

The River Cam in Cambridge © shutterstock / Pawel Pajor
The River Cam in Cambridge. Anglian Water's trial is in nearby Newmarket. © shutterstock / Pawel Pajor

Anglian Water supplies water to more than four million people and handles the sewage from around six million people in the east of England. In terms of geography, it is the largest water and sewerage company in England and Wales. This is also a region where water resources are at a premium. Rainfall is on average around 600mm a year, two thirds of the national average, and the flat, low-lying area is important for the arable crops grown.

The number of properties in Anglian’s service area has risen by around 20% since 1989. ‘We actually put less water into supply now than we did then,’ comments Steve Kaye, Head of Innovation at Anglian. ‘We have thrown a lot of resource at that. We have worked really, really hard.’

On top of this, a 34% growth in the number of households is expected by 2031. The prospect of a continued rise in population plus any impacts of climate change, which may accentuate droughts, means these efforts are going to have to continue. ‘What we are trying to do now is build on our more traditional techniques, and that for me is what innovation is all about in this area,’ adds Kaye.

The five-yearly investment programmes of the water companies in England and Wales have to be approved by economic regulator Ofwat. An important development introduced in the latest programme, running from 2016-2020, is the introduction of the concept of ‘totex’, or total expenditure. Previously, capital expenditure and operational expenditure were separated. ‘What it tends to have forced the industry to do is move more towards capital solutions,’ says Kaye. Totex is one of a number of factors that look set to drive innovation in the sector. ‘Hopefully this totex world will help us manage opex and capex and come up with more operational low-build or even no-build solutions to our problems,’ he adds.

Added to this, Kaye says that Anglian has set itself ‘aspirational goals’ for the latest investment period, covering things such as reducing operational carbon by 7% and reducing embodied carbon by 70%. ‘That means we have to build things in a completely different way,’ he says.


Anglian’s innovation activities

Innovation is not a new focus to Anglian, but there has been a change in how the company approaches it. ‘We have tried to move away from doing R&D with a big team,’ explains Kaye. ‘We used to spend a lot more money, and we used to have a lot more people, in a big innovation team. For one reason or another, that team has got smaller,’ he says. ‘Now we employ different types of people. It is not just about technical expertise, it is about how we collaborate… Bringing a more entrepreneurial, collaborative element to the team has really shaped our innovation programme.’

Kaye explains that the company still has a core innovation programme, on which it is spending around £12 million over the current five year investment period. Now there is also a focus on collaborating more with external organisations. For example, Anglian operates its Water Innovation Network to engage with its supply chain and small and medium-sized enterprises in the region. ‘A lot of the solutions that have come through have helped our leakage,’ notes Kaye. Another example is its ThinkSpace initiative to engage the entire internal workforce across all departments on how the company could meet its aspirational goals.

There is a clear importance around achieving further improvements in Anglian’s supply network operations. On average, 1080MLD goes into the distribution system. Leakage is put at 183MLD, representing around 17%. Also, around 60% of the network is directly affected by pumping, meaning £8 million of the company’s £31 million energy bill goes on direct pumping.

The company has a target of 172MLD for leakage by the end of the current five year programme and its latest efforts to drive down leakage include using pressure calming by working with companies such as i2O. ‘Anything we reduce on leakage, any calming of our network, can make a big impact on that £8 million cost,’ says Kaye. He says that work in the area of the town of Peterborough, for example, has reduced bursts by 21% and leakage by 30%. ‘It has been very effective,’ he continues, adding: ‘There are lots of other angles that we want to look at to complement that pressure management approach.’


The Innovation Shop Window

The other major innovation initiative for Anglian is its Innovation Shop Window. ‘This is an idea we had about two years ago, focusing innovation into one geographic area to drive learning and accelerate innovation,’ says Kaye. The area, in Newmarket, to the east of Cambridge, includes a district metered supply area, a sewerage network, water and sewage works, and some energy generation from biosolids.

‘The Innovation Shop Window is intended to create a microcosm of Anglian Water in 30 years’ time from now,’ says Kaye. ‘We believe that by creating this shop window and driving innovation in one area right across the manmade water cycle, we will learn a lot more, and as we learn we will roll that out across our region. We feel this is quite a groundbreaking concept.’

Anglian has set aspirational goals for this area too, going beyond the current company-wide ones. These include: zero leakage and bursts; 100% compliant and chemical-free drinking water; zero pollution and flooding incidents; energy neutrality; 100% customer satisfaction; a good ecological status; and consumption of 184 litres per property per day. Kaye notes that this latter target represents consumption of around 80 litres per person per day – about half of what customers use currently.

Given the goals, there is then a vision of the future that includes a range of capabilities. This means, for example, having an accurate measure of consumption, requiring true consumption data. To reduce bursts and the need for reactive repairs, Anglian should have an accurate view of pressure gained by logging at different speeds. For leakage detection, this includes permanent noise logging for all pipe materials.

‘We throw these goals open to our suppliers and the companies we work with to say, how can you help us achieve these goals,’ says Kaye.

Smart metering is therefore one of the activities being included in the Shop Window. Kaye says that, in common with other water companies, it has been difficult to justify this for general use. ‘We struggled to make a case,’ he says. ‘It is really difficult to show benefits for the customer financially, but we believe it is the right thing to do, so we have done it in the Shop Window to learn, to develop data and information to build a strong case for the next AMP [investment cycle].’

Another area is to look at pressure transients, for which Anglian is working with companies such as Syrinix, Inflowmatix, Technolog, and i2O. ‘Transients are really coming into the frame now,’ says Kaye. Measuring pressure at 15 minute intervals, for example, may suggest there is no issue with pressure, but measurements made at frequencies of 100Hz or above can show a different picture. ‘You can pick up pressure spikes and they can be ten times more than the pressure of the pipe and they can cause bursts,’ he says. The Shop Window work is looking at how to create risk maps for transients. ‘We have done some work in a particular area and reduced leakage by 80% and bursts by 30%, and really engaged our operations workforce in understanding why transients occur,’ he adds.

Other activities include permanent noise logging, working with companies such as Halma Water Management and Gutermann, at use of remote sensing, working with companies such as Noveltis, IMG, Apem and Utilis, and at the use of innovative valves, working with companies such as Cla-Val, IVL, and Oxford Flow. Such activities then provide a basis for implementing intelligent leakage and pressure management or dynamic networks. Anglian’s network as a whole includes some 450 distribution zones and 1900 district metered areas. ‘We can make networks discrete, but if you have got a burst you need to move water around,’ explains Kaye. ‘This concept of dynamic DMAs is quite exciting,’ he adds.


The customer question

Anglian’s six million customers are also in Kaye’s thoughts. ‘How do we engage customers in the innovation process - that’s the next area we want to explore,’ he says.

The company has started looking at working with other organisations on how to take the data obtained from smart meters and present it back to customers, says Kaye. The data could be combined with electricity or gas data, for example, and make clear to customers how much of their power is being used to heat water. ‘That might be more of an incentive to save water,’ he says. He notes also that this would take collaboration to another level, looking outside of the water sector. ‘I would like to see other sectors coming in with us in our Shop Window as well,’ he adds.


Steve Kaye was speaking at the 8th Global Leakage Summit 2016 held in London.


  • UK, Anglian Water, water supply, i2O, Syrinix, Technolog, Inflowmatix, HWM, Gutermann, Noveltis, IMG, APEM, Utilis, Cla-Val, IVL, Oxford Flow, smart utilities