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Stadt von oben, Meer © nikitamaykov/Adobe Stock

Water Distribution: Pioneering New Paths for Cities

All over the globe people are moving into urban areas. This presents challenges for water distribution. Fortunately, the Wienerberger subsidiary Pipelife is leading the way with new solutions.

14.09.2022 8 min

From a growing population to an aging infrastructure and water scarcity as a result of climate change – water stress is increasingly turning urban water management into a challenge. In particular, the distribution of industrial and drinking water is becoming a critical issue for the cities of the future. But how can leaks be detected early on? How can aging pipes be rehabilitated efficiently? New solutions are called for.

A close up of PVC potable water supply pipes
Durable solution: Pipelife uses safe and reliable PE and PVC pipe solutions with a service life of more than 100 years for drinking water distribution.
© Pipelife

Urban Water Demand is Rising

From showering to drinking a glass of water and washing dishes: many of our everyday activities require water for domestic and industrial use. However, this is becoming increasingly scarce as a result of climate change. The UN World Water Development Report 2020 predicts that in 2050 up to 4.4 billion people, up to one billion of them in cities, will have only limited access to water. At the same time, increasing urbanization is driving up demand for this precious resource: according to another UN Report, more than two thirds of the global population will be living in urban areas in 2050.

This makes it all the more important to use the available resources sustainably. This begins with the water supply system. In Europe, up to 30 percent of drinking water is lost on the way to households and businesses. Some reasons for this are poor quality or aging pipes, pipeline leaks and a lack of proper management. “Many European cities have aging water supply networks. Implementing smart monitoring can lead to a much better understanding of the network and therefore allows better decisions to be made regarding maintenance, operations and replacement,” says Jorien Loots, New Business Developer at the Wienerberger subsidiary Pipelife Netherlands. 

water drop icon

In Europe up to



of drinking water is lost during distribution.

Smart Probing for Better Monitoring

The network of water pipelines beneath busy streets, parks and buildings is rather like the branches of a tree: large-diameter water mains split off into narrower branch lines which in turn divide off into the smaller pipes that provide the service connection to the consumers. As a rule, sensors are used to maintain an overview of various parameters within the systems. The problem: The most commonly used products cannot be installed in sufficient density in the network, which makes it hard to detect leaks and cracks away from the main lines.

In the Netherlands, Pipelife is breaking new ground with smart probing. The inexpensive, battery-operated technology allows utility owners to inspect pipes at any point in the network thus increasing water security. In the modular solution, a cartridge housing high-precision sensors is connected to a circuit board and sends real-time data to a cloud. This makes it possible to constantly monitor parameters such as temperature, flow rate and pressure loss. The cartridge is fitted directly onto the pipe. Installation is safe, simple and can be carried out within two hours - without interrupting the water supply.

Two women with kids in park with illustration of underground water management
Smart Probes monitor the supply network more efficiently as they eliminate blind spots. Water losses can thus be detected and localized faster.
© Pipelife

Pilot Projects with Water Utilities

Pipelife Netherlands has teamed up with water companies and is currently developing and testing the Smart Probe solution in a number of pilot projects. “Working with water utilities lets us see what they are up against in their day-to-day operations. We can then tailor our products and services to provide them with precisely the solutions they need for the challenges they face,” says Jorien Loots. The development combines the expertise of Pipelife in the field of water infrastructure and that of the water utilities. Live data helps give operators a clearer picture of what is going on in the supply network and enables them to identify weak points earlier on.

But smart probing has even more potential: in future, the data collected by the system could be used to develop digital twins of the water network. In this way, big data can be used to have a near real time copy of the distribution network, allowing water utilities to predict different challenges and prescribe preventative measures. “We started off with smart probing. Now we are working with partners on a comprehensive Smart Asset Management solution that will fundamentally change the way water utilities understand their network,” says Jorien Loots. 

“We started off with smart probing. Now we are working with partners on a comprehensive Smart Asset Management solution that will fundamentally change the way water utilities understand their network.”

Jorien Loots

New Business Developer at Pipelife Netherlands

Trenchless Technologies for Urban Networks

Once defective pipes have been identified, one question still has to be solved: how can they be rehabilitated or replaced in built-up urban areas? Trenchless methods provide an answer: “These technologies have their origins in tunnelling and mining. In recent decades, they have been continuously improved for laying new pipes and repairing and rehabilitating existing ones,” says Werner Sens, Head of Product Management at Pipelife Austria.

The challenge: Pipes installed with this technology have to be able to withstand high loads. Pipelife therefore offers robust and highly durable PE 100 RC pipes with a resistant coating for additional protection. The clear advantage of such no-dig technology is that in contrast to open construction methods, roads, pavements and adjacent structures are left largely undisturbed. The technology also eliminates the need for truck transports to remove the excavated material, thus minimizing the impact on urban traffic as well as costs and CO2 emissions.

At a Glance: Three Trenchless Methods

  • Horizontal Directional Drilling: This method involves using a controlled drill to excavate an underground borehole that can be up to several hundred meters long. This hole is then enlarged, and the new pipe is pulled through. This method is suitable for new installations.
  • Pipe Bursting: A cutting and expander head is pulled through an old pipe. As the head has a larger diameter than the existing pipe it bursts the pipe from the inside. At the same time, a new pipe is pulled through. This method is used for rehabilitation projects.
  • Sliplining: This is also a rehabilitation method. A new pipe with a slightly smaller cross-section is pushed through a larger pipe that is in need of rehabilitation.
Visualisierung von Horizontalspülbohrungen | Pipelife © Pipelife

Conclusion: With advancing climate change and population growth, cities are looking for new ways to secure their water supply in the long term. Pipelife is driving this development with pioneering solutions. Because reliable and hygienic water systems are key for the urban living space of the future.

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