New UK Digital Underground Infrastructure Map Launched

Water efficiency - H2O Building Services


A new digital map of the UK’s entire network of underground infrastructure has been launched to help prevent accidents and disruption from taking place in the future.


The map includes the likes of sewers, water mains, gas pipes and power cables, with the interactive service first tested in the north-east of England and the aim being to roll it out nationwide by 2025.


It apparently costs the UK around £2.4 billion each year in damages caused by accidental strikes, but utility companies will now be able to use the map to see exactly where each piece of infrastructure is, helping them approach their work with caution and avoid making costly and time-consuming mistakes.


Tests have been carried out on the National Underground Asset Register (NUAR) over the last 12 months in the north-east, with a similar system already proving effective in Scotland.


It’s estimated that there are some four million kilometres of pipes and cables buried underground around the UK, with a hole dug every second seconds to install, maintain and fix the critical infrastructure the country needs to keep the water running, the gas and electricity flowing and to ensure we continue to remain connected and communicative with the outside world.


Estimates suggest that there are around 60,000 accidental strikes that cause damage to pipes and cables each year, which puts worker safety and lives at risk, as well as causing issues for businesses and members of the public, as well.


The NUAR will provide a standardised and centralised point for privately and publicly owned data from hundreds of organisations about the location of all these assets. Serving as a secure, trusted, sustainable and audible platform in the future.


Standardisation is one of the key benefits of this new register. Although each of the asset owners in the public and private sectors hold data relating to their own specific assets, there is currently no standardised method of sharing this data for the purposes of safe digging across multiple organisations.


It means that each individual organisation needs to be contacted for each dig in question, providing information relating to scales, quality and timeliness, which makes the process particularly complicated for sourcing and using the relevant information.


NUAR intends to streamline this process of sharing data, reducing the risks of potentially lethal strikes on infrastructure and delivering more efficient management and maintenance of those assets that are below ground.


NUAR & water leaks


The development of this new register couldn’t come at a more critical time for the water sector in particular, which is facing increasing pressure on the network from the likes of increased urbanisation, water mismanagement, ageing infrastructure, pollution and more frequent extreme weather events.


It is becoming increasingly important to safeguard water resources for future generations, with demand expected to start outstripping supply by 40 per cent come the year 2050… and a big part of the problem is the UK’s water leakage rates.


Approximately three billion litres of water is lost through leakage each and every day in England alone, so addressing this will be necessary in order to build resilience into the country’s water supplies.


This is where the NUAR will likely come into its own. In order to repair water pipes below ground, you need to have a good idea of the surrounding area near the faulty pipe in question.


However, up until now, records will have only been available showing where the pipe itself was buried, with no information relating to the likes of fibre optic cables, gas pipes, electricity cables, charging point cables, street lighting and so on.


Northumbrian Water became the first utility company to sign the national data-sharing agreement as part of the NUAR project, according to Smart Water Magazine.


Clive Surman-Wells, innovation partnerships manager with the company, was quoted by the news source at the time as saying: “This was an idea grown from a tiny seed sown at one of our early Innovation Festivals, and to watch how it has grown is absolutely astounding.


“I can’t wait to see how NUAR continues to grow, and I’d encourage as many utilities as possible to join the movement and sign the agreement so we can move towards being a data-sharing industry for the benefit of our staff and customers.”


How can businesses help?


Water efficiency is very much the name of the game these days and individuals and businesses alike have their own part to play to help reduce pressure on water resources now and well into the future.


Where water leaks are concerned, it can be very difficult indeed to even know if you have a problem, because leaks often take place tucked away below ground or they’re so small that they’re barely noticeable… until you start to see signs of water damage somewhere, or until you see a big spike in your water bills.


Having a water audit carried out across your site can be particularly beneficial if you are worried that you have leaks somewhere. This will reveal any weak and vulnerable areas that could be in need of some attention, allowing repair work to be carried out and leaks stopped in their tracks.


Not only will this help reduce pressure on freshwater supplies, it will also save you money into the bargain, since you won’t be paying out for water that you’re not actually using.


Another way to reduce leaks is to invest in remote monitoring equipment, which can track your water flow hourly for ten years. This way, leaks can be identified immediately and dealt with in a timely fashion, so you’re wasting even less time and money and reducing your business’s water footprint quite significantly indeed.