Severn Trent launches first UK fibre optic leak detection trial

UK water company Severn Trent is trialling the use of fibre optic cables inside its water pipes, in an attempt to reduce the number of leaks and bursts across its network.

Based in the Midlands, the 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, during which the effects of leaks were simulated.

The trial is the first of its kind in the UK on a live water main. The next step is to install a fibre optic cable with an in-built CCTV camera, which will allow engineers to see, as well as hear, any potential issues inside the pipes.

The company is planning to roll out further trials later this year, where fibre optic cables will be permanently installed across a larger section of Severn Trent’s water network. This will enable leaks to be monitored 27/7, exploring their potential to detect leaks early in more detail.

“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,” explained Jo Claronino, technical project lead at Severn Trent.

“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.

“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.”

The trial is part of Severn Trent’s contribution to the World Water Innovation Fund, a global initiative launched in 2019 to encourage water companies to work collaboratively by sharing new technologies and best practice.

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