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United Utilities signs UK-first AI deal for energy savings

United Utilities has become the first water company in the UK to introduce large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) into its systems after a trial slashed energy use by nearly a quarter.

United Utilities has become the first water company in the UK to introduce large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) into its systems after a trial slashed energy use by nearly a quarter.

Following a 12 week trial in Oldham, the water supplier has signed a deal with Canadian tech firm EMAGIN to roll out AI across its entire network in the North West.

EMAGIN’s AI platform, called HARVI, uses vast amounts of data from weather, water demand, pump performance and electricity prices to make decisions on the most cost-effective and efficient way to run the water network.

By using pumps more efficiently, the trial yielded energy savings of 22 per cent while also helping to detect burst water pipes and minimising the risk of discoloured water.

‘Huge potential’

“Water networks are complex systems, and technology like this is going to play an integral role in our drive towards ‘systems thinking’ - helping us make more sense and better use of Big Data”, said Steve Fraser, chief operating officer at United Utilities.

“The pilot scheme clearly demonstrated the huge potential for efficiency and energy savings which will help reduce our operational costs. This is going to be vital over the coming years as we aim to reduce customer bills by 10.5 per cent in real terms from 2020.” 

The AI platform is expected to be in place across the whole of the North West by the end of 2019, with plans already underway to apply the technology in other areas such as wastewater operations and leakage reduction.

It is not the first time United Utilities has employed AI to help make energy savings. Separate AI software is already in place to monitor and manage the company’s electricity demand and on-site power generation.