A UK-first trial ‘hears’ leaks and bursts inside water pipes

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SEVERN Trent is trialling the use of fibre optic cables inside its pipes in a bid to reduce the number of leaks and bursts across its network.

The Midlands-based water company recently installed 750m of fibre optic cable inside a live section of its network, to test its ‘listening’ capabilities over a four-hour period, where the effects of leaks were simulated.

The trial of this ‘lift and shift’ fibre optic cable is the first of its kind in the UK on a live main.

Jo Claronino, Technical Project Lead at Severn Trent, commented on the project: “Using fibre optic cables inside water pipes has the potential to identify leaks, pressure changes, temperature, vibrations and sound inside our pipes like never before.

“Currently, we use hydrophone technology to help us identify where issues are on our network, especially inside pipes.

“This approach has its limitations because it relies on the human ear and only has one sensor at the tip of the cable.

“Fibre optic cables act as a long line of continuous microphones or sensors that can ‘hear’ multiple leaks simultaneously across a longer distance.

“Once a leak is identified, the location can be pinpointed accurately.

“By ‘listening’ out for any of these changes, we think this technology has enormous potential to act as an early warning system across our network, helping us to pinpoint where these issues are and to carry out the repair before it develops into a bigger problem.

“It’s not just about leaks and bursts either. Fibre optics can also tell us when and where people are accessing our network illegally.”

The next step of the project will be to install a fibre optic cable with an in-built CCTV camera, allowing the company’s engineers to see as well as hear any potential issues inside the pipes.

Future trials are also planned for later in the year where fibre optic cables will be permanently installed across a bigger stretch of Severn Trent’s network.

This will mean leaks can be monitored around the clock, exploring their potential to detect leaks early in more detail.

The trial forms part of Severn Trent’s contribution to the World Water Innovation Fund, a global initiative launched last year, designed to encourage water companies to work together by sharing new technologies and best practice.