To improve the current situation, we need to approach the challenge in multiple ways, depending on the status of the networks (i.e., whether the networks are in operation or still in design).
Within the GCC, a vast number of new networks are being constructed to achieve various ongoing developments and visions. As a priority, every new transmission network must include permanently installed automated leak detection using technology such as acoustic or thermal sensors (heat-sensing fibre optic cables that identify temperature changes caused by water leakage and affecting the ground underneath the pipe) to allow rapid identification and repair of leaks. In addition, real-time flow monitoring at each end of the line, connected and synchronised through SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems, will also help identify any water loss in the line, allowing for quick remediation at the point of loss.
Throughout the design and construction process of pipes, reservoirs, and pumping stations, compliance with international codes and the application of proper quality procedures are essential. Simple debris left in a joint during the construction of a water-retaining structure can waste vast quantities of water over the asset's lifetime.
Identifying losses in existing networks may sometimes be more challenging. However, with the introduction of smart technology, these losses can be tracked to confirm whether they are real or apparent.
At reservoirs and pumping stations, simple algorithms integrated into SCADA systems can assess the levels in the reservoirs against the incoming and outgoing flows, as well as monitor the ground around the external edges of the structures using automated sensors.
Within the pipes themselves, solutions such as in-pipe acoustic resonance technology can be applied. This technology uses a sensor that travels inside the pipe with the flow, using acoustics to identify changes in sound and anomalies in the pipe wall, allowing further physical investigations to take place.
Other options include the use of noise correlators. These have recently been significantly improved in quality and, after being used in Germany for over 50 years, are now being used by a number of the UAE water providers. Noise correlators are non-destructive and non-invasive, using multiple microphones with acoustic technology to pick up the noise impact of leaks and determine their distance, hence pinpointing the leaks for repair. Similar technology can be used at specific isolation valves to listen for passing valves or unexpected water movement in the pipe.
At the distribution level, the establishment of DMAs (District Metering Areas), either during network design or developed retrospectively, when combined with smart property meters and connected SCADA systems, will allow real-time monitoring of the networks and assist in the identification of any non-revenue water in the distribution systems, including non-physical causes.
By integrating these options with the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) based on real-time monitoring and the advancement of Digital Twins, network operators can transition to predictive maintenance. This involves identifying potential risk areas within networks and critical infrastructure. Consequently, any situations that could result in breaks or water loss, such as elevated water pressures, can be recognised and pre-emptively addressed before these breaks arise.