In much of the world, aging infrastructure causes cities to lose a staggering amount of water to leakage before it can ever reach a home or business. In 2014, NPR reported that a sixth of America’s treated water is lost to leakage, totaling 2.1 trillion gallons annually. Forbes tallied losses exceeding 30 percent. Even higher leakage rates are reported in some U.S. municipalities and, of course, worldwide.
One Israeli startup says its technology can not only detect leaks as small as an eighth of an inch, but it can also locate potential weak spots in pipes before they even sprout a leak.
Aquarius Spectrum is a startup located just north of Tel Aviv, Israel. Founded in 2009 by David Solomon, the company develops both sensors and software that can work together to monitor a water utility’s pipe system and send alerts at the very moment a leak starts to develop. TriplePundit recently spoke with Aquarius Spectrum’s CEO, Oded Fruchtman, to learn about the company’s growth and how its technology solutions can save utilities both water and money.
Real-time leak detection is a relatively new technology. For decades, water utilities really could not do much more than be reactive in the event that a pipe leaked, and were often not aware of such a problem until a water main burst. Then 20 to 30 years ago, listening sticks emerged, which allowed civil engineers to listen to underground pipes in order to gauge whether a leak possibly existed. Data would be collected on a regular basis and then be dumped into a spreadsheet or database. But while that advancement helped speed up the pipe repair process, the monitoring of leaks was still an inexact science. Typically, if a leak was detected, entire swathes of land would have to be dug out – and on average, the cost to excavate land in order to repair pipes on average costs about $1 million a mile.
Aquarius Spectrum’s sensors take much of the guesswork out of leak detection. Pipe monitoring systems can be installed on pipes, hydrants and valve pits. Every night at the same time, those sensors take acoustic measurements and then send them to a cloud server. The company’s software then uses correlation in order to determine the distance of a leak from a sensor. By analyzing these sounds, Aquarius Spectrum’s technology can pinpoint the location of a leak with an average deviation of 1 percent.
In other words, if a leak is determined to be 100 feet away from a sensor, Aquarius Spectrum claims that in the end, an underground leak’s location will be off by only one foot at most. “When you can find leaks that small, you don’t have to react in an emergency manner, or work on weekends or holidays,” explained Fruchtman.
The company’s acoustic technology can also help provide utilities information on leaks in private buildings. “We can tell if the leak’s in an office building or a flat, or if the problem is with the water meter, a pressure reduce valve—anything that creates a noise that should not be creating a noise,” Fruchtman continued during the interview with 3p.
According to Fruchtman, Aquarius Spectrum’s technology can provide water utilities additional benefits. As many cities’ infrastructure ages, this same software can provide employees information suggesting where the weak spots are within a city’s water works. By having the ability to start preventive maintenance, a job that in the past would have involved digging up an entire street can now be localized. Water utilities can plan ahead and use their employees’ time far more effectively. “The fact is that you now need less service teams to do surveys on a weekly or monthly basis. You have everything you need in the palm of your hand with this information,” he said.
One of Aquarius Spectrum’s first customers was HaGihon, Jerusalem’s water and wastewater utility. The city of 800,000, which has long coped with rapid growth, mountainous terrain and old infrastructure within its central core, proved to be a perfect testing ground for the company’s sensors, cloud software and mobile technology. In 2013, the utility installed 1,600 sensors across much of the city’s water distribution network. Three years later, Aquarius Spectrum’s system found 226 hidden leaks across Jerusalem, with 55 of them occurring within privately held properties. While the number of visible leaks or bursts sharply declined, the city also reported an 18 percent decrease in non-revenue water, or NRW – a financial metric that is the bane of a water utility’s day-to-day business operations. HaGihon now has 2,700 of the company’s sensors set up across Jerusalem.
The company currently has 10 pilot operations underway here in the U.S. In addition, two large water utilities in the United Kingdom have adopted this technology, and Aquarius Spectrum has just started to launch new business in China. For water companies, the potential to reduce water loss while increasing customer service is huge. Fruchtman noted that one UK water executive told him that his utility had been frustrated trying to locate a leak within its system for five years. During that period of time, that leak caused the loss of 10 cubic meters of water an hour, day after day, which after five years is enough to fill at least 175 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In two days, Aquarius Spectrum’s sensors and software were able to pinpoint the leak. As a result, the utility saw its NRW losses crater in that particular district metering area by 90 percent.
Image credit: Magnus D/Flickr
Editor’s note: Vibe Israel funded Leon Kaye’s December 2016 trip to Israel. Neither the author nor TriplePundit were required to write about the experience.