Using AI to avoid spills

A seemingly game-changing digital technology to reduce sewer network blockages and pollution is being rolled out by Yorkshire Water, in a contract recently awarded to Siemens.

Siemens’ Adam Cartwright said it offered “a step change” in how water firms can respond to incidents. “The AI can work on existing or new sensors in the network”.

The integrated sensing, communication, analytics and reporting solution will be deployed across a network of 2,000 Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and manholes which discharge sewage and wastewater when the system is overloaded.

It works by using smart sensors to feed water level data into the SIWA Blockage Predictor, an application on Siemens’ cloud-based, open Internet of Things (IoT) operating system, MindSphere. Artificial Intelligence (AI) then evaluates the performance of the sewer network in real time and predicts problems like network blockages before they happen, enabling YW to plan and deploy the appropriate resource to inspect and resolve issues.

The solution was developed by Siemens, YW and the University of Sheffield and recently won the Data Analytics, Cloud and AI Project of the Year at the 2021 Water Industry Awards.

Analysis of 21,300 days of data by the University seemingly found that the AI is able to give YW up to two weeks’ advance notice of problems and identify 9 out of 10 potential issues – three times more successful than its existing pollution prediction processes that relied on statistical methods, while reducing the number of false positive alerts by 50%.

For the cost of every resident in the UK ‘spending a penny’ each year, every overflow in Britain could be monitored by the AI system.

Steve Hanslow, Head of Water for Siemens Digital Industries UK, said: “The challenge of moving from a Proof of Concept to scale are considerable. Through partnership we have been able to develop a solution that is secure, scalable, cost effective and can be deployed at pace.

“Keeping sewers free from blockages and reducing river pollution is a wide-ranging and complex issue, and Siemens is happy to help the water industry to meet the technological challenge.”

Heather Sheffield, Manager of Operational Planning and Technology at Yorkshire Water said the approach “will change our visibility of the sewer network and improve how we identify and tackle blockages.”

“Rolling out the solution to 2,000 assets across the entire county will have a significant role in reducing the number of pollution incidents, which can have a negative impact on the environment, as well as increasing our efficiency and providing improved value to our customers.”

Adam Cartwright, Head of IoT Application Delivery at Siemens, said: “SIWA Blockage Predictor is a step change in how water companies can avoid pollution incidents.

“The AI can work on existing or new sensors in the network. Integrated reporting of spills and overflow events will support water companies as they rise to the challenge set by the Storm Overflows Taskforce for greater transparency and open data.”