At the Year in Infrastructure conference in London in the Utilities breakout session I was invited to participate in an industry panel discussion on "Repair, Rehab, and Replacement of Aging Infrastructure". The two panelists I joined were Dr Nicole Metje, Senior Lecturer at Birmingham University, whose research focus is mapping and assessing the condition of buried utilities (a favorite topic of mine and will come back on this), and Paul Jewell, with Western Power Distribution (WPD), part of the NYSE listed PPL group. Paul is Policy Manager for WPD, responsible for WPD’s approach to innovation as it brings together the work of the Future Networks Team with the more traditional elements of management of an electricity distribution network.
One of the topics that came up early in the discussion was documentation about underground utility networks including geolocation. My experience in North America is that this information is treated as national security information and is not publicly available. I assumed that this was fairly typical of the rest of the world (although several years ago I did find a water utility in New Zealand, North Shore City, that had made its water network documentation available on the web). In the discussion Paul interjected that Western Power Distribution had made its network documentation including maps publicly available. I was very (pleasantly) surprised. I have blogged about countries, states, counties and cities making their data open. But open data and utilities almost seemed an oxymoron. (An exception is the Green Button program for consumers, which started as a United States Department of Energy initiative and was conceived as a way of bringing innovation into utilities.)
I followed up after the discussion and checked the Western Power Distribution web site (The site says that domestic/private customers should request plans using the phone number, email or postal address provided on the site.) Companies and organizations are referred to LinesearchbeforeUdig (LSBUD) which is a free service that allows a user to check their planned excavation against over 50 asset owners’ utility assets which include underground and overhead pipes and cables in the electricity, gas, high pressure fuel, water and fibre optic networks. WPD is a member utility of the LSBUD service. All that seems to be required to become a user of LSBUD is providing a UK street address and a valid email address.
This seems similar to the Dutch KLIC-Online system. In 2010 the Netherlands switched to a digital online call-before-you-dig system. With KLIC-Online the turnaround time for call-before-you-dig calls was reduced to hours compared to the manual system. Both the manual and KLIC-Online one-Call systems were voluntary until 2008 when made KLIC was made mandatory for both network operators and excavators with severe penalties for excavators who circumvented the system. In the Netherlands there is also a charge of € 29.50 for every excavation request, whereas the English system is free.
One of the 50 utilities participating in LSBUD is ESP Utilities Group Ltd, which operates gas and electricity infrastructure networks across Britain. It reports that LSBUD has meant that 99% of excavation enquiries are responded to automatically within 10 minutes.