Human-Computer Optimisation for Water Systems Planning and Management (HOWS)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering

Abstract

It is widely acknowledged that the water and wastewater infrastructure assets, which communities rely upon for health, economy and environmental sustainability, are severely underfunded on a global scale. For example, a funding gap of nearly $55 billion has been identified by the US EPA (ASCE, 2011). In England and Wales, the total estimated capital value of water utility assets is £254.8 billion (Ofwat, 2015), but between 2010 and 2015 only £12.9 billion was allocated for maintaining and replacing assets. Combined with the drive to reduce customers' bills, there will be even more pressure on water companies to find ways to bridge the gap between the available and required finances. As a result of this it is not surprising that optimisation methods have been extensively researched and applied in this area (Maier et al., 2014).

The inability of those methods to include into optimisation 'unquantifiable' or difficult to quantify, yet important considerations, such as user subjective domain knowledge, has contributed to the limited adoption of optimisation in the water industry. Many cognitive and computational challenges accompany the design, planning and management involving complex engineered systems. Water industry infrastructure assets (i.e., water distribution and wastewater networks) are examples of systems that pose severe difficulties to completely automated optimisation methods due to their size, conceptual and computational complexity, non-linear behaviour and often discrete/combinatorial nature. These difficulties have first been articulated by Goulter (1992), who primarily attributed the lack of application of optimisation in water distribution network (WDN) design to the absence of suitable professional software. Although such software is now widely available (e.g., InfoWorks, WaterGems, EPANET, etc.), the lack of user under-standing of capabilities, assumptions and limitations still restricts the use of optimisation by practicing engineers (Walski, 20).

Automatic methods that require a purely quantitative mathematical representation do not leverage human expertise and can only find solutions that are optimal with regard to an invariably over-simplified problem formulation. The focus of the past research in this area has almost exclusively been on algorithmic issues. However, this approach neglects many important human-computer interaction issues that must be addressed to provide practitioners with engineering-intuitive, practical solutions to optimisation problems.

This project will develop new understanding of how engineering design, planning and management of complex water systems can be improved by creating a visual analytics optimisation approach that will integrate human expertise (through 'human in the loop' interactive optimisation), IT infrastructure (cloud/parallel computing) and state-of-the-art optimisation techniques to develop highly optimal, engineering intuitive solutions for the water industry.

The new approach will be extensively tested on problems provided by the UK water industry and will involve practicing engineers and experts in this important problem domain.

Planned Impact

The cost of repairing and expanding UK drinking water infrastructure will increase substantially in the next 25 years, an expense that likely will be met primarily through higher water bills if better planning tools are not developed and adopted by the water industry. However, currently, the industry and their supply chain (contractors, consultants) do not consider optimisation as a viable vehicle for achieving efficiency in water infrastructure planning and management. The project directly addresses not only this issue, but also a major societal challenge: how should the UK achieve its provisioning of high-quality water supply services in the future while facing severe economic and population pressures, a strategic question of great importance to any society. The research will focus on how water supply infrastructure planning and management can be improved by creating a visual analytics optimisation approach that will integrate human/industrial expertise, advanced IT infrastructure and state-of-the-art optimisation techniques to develop highly optimal and engineering intuitive solutions for the water industry.

Two broad communities of stakeholders will be targeted: the end-user and research communities.

End-user communities:
The work will be of interest to: (i) the water industry and their contractors, (ii) the public, including various water users (domestic, industrial, commercial), (iii) software and IT technology providers, (iv) infrastructure stakeholder beyond the water industry, e.g., gas, electricity, transport, and (v) the policy community and regulators (e.g., Ofwat, Water Industry Commission for Scotland, the Environment Agency, etc).

Research/academic communities:
Impact within the academic and research communities will be achieved through (i) publications in prestigious international journals and (ii) presentations at key conferences and workshops. Importantly the research community will additionally benefit from the same pathways specified for the user community.

Methods of Engagement:
During the application period the PI and Co-Is have already engaged with a range of stakeholders regarding this particular project. They will further develop these dialogues during the project in keeping with the following Impact Strategy:

1. Build awareness of the project among stakeholders (the direct and indirect water infrastructure managers and policy makers). This will be done by the following means:
a. Technical Advisory Group meetings - TAG is composed of members representing the major stakeholders in the planning and management of water infrastructure in the UK.
b. Case Studies and HOWS system demonstrations - The two water utility partners (South West Water and Bristol Water) are will provide data on real water distribution systems for case studies
c. The Clean Water Modelling Advisory Group meetings - A member of TAG will enable two-way communication between research team and CwMAG practitioners.
d. Visits to stakeholder organisations - Visits to project partners, stakeholder organisations and a number of water and software companies will be arranged.
e. Publications and International Conferences - Publish in industry specific journals and magazines and attend industry conferences, e.g., Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium 2018.
f. Development of a website - This will target academic and non-academic audiences; provide information on the project, academic and user publications; allow user feedback.

2. Influence policymakers on key aspects of the research, e.g., OFWAT and the Environment Agency.

3. Engage third sector bodies, e.g., UK Water Partnership,The Rivers Trust, Smart Water Network-SWAN, Ctrl+Swan Action Group of EIP Water, KWR in the Netherlands, gas, electricity and transport infrastructure managers.

4. Engage the public and other interested parties via, e.g., press releases, media interviews and social media (Twitter, Research Gate, LinkedIn groups).

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Demonstration of HOWS System at Industrial Digital Twins Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Demonstration of the HOWS VR system to a group of industrial partners as part of a University Digital Twins day
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Demonstration of HOWS System for Company in the Marine Sector 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Demonstration of the HOWS VR system to high level delegation of large UK company from the marine sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Demonstration of the HOWS System at Venturefest South West 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Demonstration of the HOWS Interactive system to delegates of Venturefest SW 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.venturefest-sw.co.uk/
 
Description Demonstration of the HOWS Virtual Reality System at the 17th International Computing & Control for the Water Industry Conference, Exeter, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The HOWS Virtual Reality system was demonstrated to delegates of the 17th International Computing & Control for the Water Industry Conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.ccwi-2019.com/
 
Description HOWS Presentation at the Clean Water Management Advisory Group (Nottingham) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Clean Water Management Advisory Group meets annually to discuss matters relating to the provision of drinking water in the UK. Representatives from a large majority of water companies and consultants attend this event and it was therefore an ideal event to promote the HOWS project and questionnaire. Following the team's presentation, we received more responses to the questionnaire regarding attitudes to optimisation and interest from companies in joining the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://cwmagblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/cwmag-autumn-conference-2017-exploiting-the-benefits-of-m...
 
Description HOWS Presentation at the Future Water Networks Event (Kenilworth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Future Water Association ran this event exploring innovation in the water industry. Prof. Keedwell presented the HOWS project and questionnaire which resulted in more responses to the questionnaire on attitudes to optimisation in the water industry and led to approaches to join the project by two further companies - a water company and a consultant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.futurewaterassociation.com/future-water-networks-4-5-december-2017
 
Description HOWS Questionnaire 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A questionnaire exploring attitudes to optimisation by practitioners in the water industry went live in 2017. The questionnaire uses the Qualtrics platform and was developed with assistance from an experience academic in Psychology. The questions are focussed on the understanding and use of optimisation by companies in the water industry and have been informing development of the project systems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL https://exetercles.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1WU3ojXh8ojajZz
 
Description HOWS Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The HOWS website includes information about the project designed primarily for engagement with industry, but also with the general public. The site contains up to date news about the project along with video and text descriptions of the project aims, objectives and team members involved. A link also provides access to the online questionnaire regarding attitudes towards optimisation in the industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL http://howsproject.uk/
 
Description Invited Keynote at Multi-Criteria Decision Making Workshop at GECCO 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited keynote talk given at MCDM workshop in the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation 2019 conference, Prague, Czech Republic by Prof. Keedwell on HOWS outputs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://gecco-2019.sigevo.org/index.html/Workshops#id_Evolutionary%20Computation%20+%20Multiple%20Cr...
 
Description Invited Talk given at IROHMS Group in the Dept. Engineering at the University of Cardiff 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited talk given by Prof. Keedwell to the IROHMS group in the Engineering department at the University of Cardiff on HOWS research outputs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Keynote talk given at EA2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited keynote talk given at Evolution Artificielle 2019 conference at the University de Haute Alsace in Mulhouse, France by Prof. Ed Keedwell on HOWS outputs and
sequence-based hyperheuristics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://ea2019.inria.fr/