31 July 2019
Water supply networks need to take care of their assets

Water supply networks are full of holes: up to 40% of the water entering the pipes gets lost before reaching households and end-users. Moreover, this is not due to tampering or fraud, but the real cause is to be found in infrastructure obsolescence and lack of maintenance.

As Italy is one of the worst European countries in this domain, data from Cresme research institute are particularly alarming. About 22% of operating pipes (74 thousand Km. out of a national network of 337 thousand Km.) is more than 50 years old, and planned replacement rate is less than 0.5% per year. This means the rapidly ageing infrastructure will be updated in about 60 years from now, a timeframe that is not acceptable to grant continuity and quality of service.

Although in 2018 water suppliers invested about 1.9 billion euro for pipes maintenance (+44% from 2017), more than 90% was used for emergency fixing or remedial actions. Predictive and prescriptive maintenance approaches, as well as data-driven asset management, are quite entirely unknown.

Budget constraints might be an important barrier to speed up innovation, as the primary financial source for water suppliers are users’ bill, covering about 80% of overall investments. Since Italy has very low water tariffs if compared to other EU member states, it’s difficult to imagine a significant rise in spending.

However, financing is just one side of the story. The truth is that smart technologies should be massively injected into the existing water network to enable advanced monitoring and maintenance support. Only 14% of the national infrastructure is today equipped with leakage detection systems, and only 30 thousand Km integrate smart sensors for remote control or automatic load and pressure regulation.

Implementing smart technology and evolving from a reactive to a prescriptive maintenance approach could contribute to considerably increase asset performance, at the same time keeping the total cost of ownership under control. Reliable Enterprise Asset Management solutions would provide water suppliers with the opportunity to better monitor existing and new pipes, track all equipment along the pipes, identify vulnerabilities and define all necessary actions to minimise leakages or failures. Accurate predictions over assets lifetime would allow operators to efficiently and effectively schedule maintenance campaigns.

Collecting and processing asset data in real-time would also enable advanced water analytics, thus offering citizens and authorities important information about quality and health, possible contaminants and countermeasures, consumption patterns and responsible water use.

This evolution would start if ignited by strong, resolute decisions only. However, the time has come to change direction, and ensure water is treated as a precious, vital resource.


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