Sunderland: the next smart water city

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Conn Crawford, Client Development Manager (ICT) at Sunderland Council

Could Sunderland soon be a pioneering city in smart water management? Conn Crawford, Client Development Manager (ICT) at Sunderland City Council, discusses the smart water project they are in collaboration with Digital Catapult Centre North East & Tees Valley. 

With many councils facing budget reductions, the pressure to reduce costs is steadily increasing and budget wasted on water, gas and electricity reduces money available for frontline services.

Sunderland City Council’s collaboration with Northumbria Water is a multi-stage project which could see Sunderland become an exemplar ‘smart water city’ and produce significant efficiencies and savings for the public purse.

The initiative fits very well with the Council’s Intelligence Approach. The project focuses on capturing and integrating data from diverse sources to support better evidence based decision making and use of resources.

The Council has a large estate of metered water supplies, but only a fraction are capable of communicating real-time information back to utility management systems. Further multi-utility and estate data is not presently integrated for insight. This tends to mean that issues including unusual consumption, wastage and leaks take longer to identify and respond to than we would like. We also recognised the potential value we might get if our water management could be made part of wider utility management, alongside gas and electricity supply.

With the planned 2017 deregulation of the water industry opening up the industry to more competition, suppliers like Northumbria Water are looking to differentiate their capabilities.

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Utility and digital agencies in the North East are looking to collaborate 

The smart water project has been proposed and coordinated by +ADD Strategy, a local open innovation agency retained by Northumbrian Water, and supported by Digital Catapult North East & Tees Valley. The initiative represents a great opportunity to facilitate more collaboration between utility and digital agencies in the North East.

We are considering the output of the first stages of the initiative which have enabled us to explore what insight would be of most value to our energy managers, and to generate ideas with SMEs about how multi-utility and Council data can be combined to produce meaningful insights. The next step will see the creation of bespoke reporting tools to enhance operational insights, support decision making and save costs.

Moving forward we will also hopefully include trialling a new, low-cost alternative to smart meters to provide better and more frequent data from our properties. By working closely with Digital Catapult North East & Tees Valley and other agencies, there is also potential to engage in further innovative projects using the results.

Success could then lead to a roll out across the whole city partnership estate. It would be nice if the City of Light could reflect on some smart water in the not too distant future.

Conn Crawford is Client Development Manager (ICT) at Sunderland City Council. Follow Digital Catapult North East & Tees Valley on Twitter @DigiCatNETV for more news on the smart water project and ways to get involved. Don’t forget to follow us too @DigiCatapult

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