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Partnership which kept lockdown taps flowing shortlisted for award

Monday 25th January 2021 09:30

hands being washed at bathroom sink

A partnership between Thames Water and the Met Office, which helped manage unprecedented change in water demand during the coronavirus lockdown, is in the running for an industry award.

The joint project has been shortlisted in the Utility Partner of the Year category in the 2021 Utility Week Awards, which will be held online on February 8.

Early in the first lockdown period, Thames Water noticed a drastic shift in water use patterns, including less obvious peak demand periods each morning and evening as fewer people left home for work and school. 

The company also found water use in London drop to record lows, while in the suburbs and Thames Valley usage sky rocketed thanks to people staying at home but also abnormally warm weather. This meant much less water needed to be abstracted and treated in London and much more was needed elsewhere, presenting Thames Water’s operational and planning teams with a challenge like no other.

Experts quickly went to work to interpret the changes and calibrate demand models accordingly. This meant water production and storage could be adapted to make sure enough water was getting to where customers needed it and demand could be met. The changes were so significant that it was clear other water companies would be similarly affected, and so Thames Water called on the Met Office to coordinate cross-company collaboration. The partnership was so successful 10 other water companies joined in to form the ‘COVID-19 Water Demand User Group’.

Ian Savage, a strategic control manager at Thames Water, said: “We provide an essential service and, especially during a health pandemic, it’s vital our customers have access to safe, clean water when they need it. Lockdown changed when and where they were using water in ways we’d never experienced and we had to respond quickly to keep taps flowing, so to have the Met Office’s expertise was invaluable.”

“It’s brilliant recognition for us all to have our partnership recognised by being shortlisted for the award.”

Nick Law, from the Met Office, said: “We have Thames Water to thank for initiating this COVID project. And seeing how the water companies responded and came together to tackle a shared problem and being able to facilitate this has been inspiring. Of course, it was a win-win situation; by sharing experiences and contributing their data, we all gained a better understanding of how the lockdown was affecting water company demand.

"One of our core values at the Met Office is to help organisations make better decisions to stay safe and thrive. So having the opportunity to step up and host this forum to support Thames and other water companies was a ‘no-brainer’. The combination of Thames’ detailed insight into demand together with the Met Office’s weather expertise provided real value at a very difficult time for water companies.”

The coming together of the Met Office and the water companies demonstrated to key stakeholders that the companies were tackling these challenges with a spirit of collaboration, by sharing data, information and ideas in order to jointly find the best way forward. It also enabled significant cost savings by the companies jointly funding the development of a new COVID-19 sensitive demand model which was used for planning and reporting purposes.

Other nominees in the same category as the Thames Water and Met Office partnership are Content Guru, Enzen, Energy and Utility Skills, Network Plus and Wipro Limited.