Pioneering research assesses the true impact of utilities on society

Utility companies across the North East and Yorkshire and the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC) are working together to better understand the impact of utility maintenance, replacement and repair activities on local communities.

The project will deliver the first ever cross utility industry research to explore the social impact of network interventions on communities.

The utility partners –  Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Yorkshire Water and Northumbrian Water – have appointed WRc and Collingwood Environmental Planning to carry out the research which will be co-ordinated by the EIC.

Routine maintenance works on the networks that deliver water, heat, power and remove waste from UK households frequently come under fire for the disruption they cause to residents, road users, pedestrians and local businesses and the negative impacts they can have on the environment, health and the local economy.  However, these activities also have significant social value as they facilitate safe, efficient and affordable utility networks that provide essential services.

This project will explore appropriate metrics for assessing the social impact of network interventions.  It will investigate how innovation can be used to maximise benefits, reduce the impact on local communitites and drive up productivity.

EIC CEO Denise Massey said:

“We are delighted to be undertaking such an important research project with a range of cross-industry partners which is the first of its kind in the UK.

“We believe that by working collaboratively on this topic we will be able to identify how innovation can transform maintenance works so that people and places no longer feel their negative impact.  We hope that our findings will lead to a more cohesive, people-centric approach that can be replicated across the rest of the UK.

This project is an excellent example of how we can work together for a better collective future.”

Peter Coddington from Yorkshire Water said:

“We’re joining forces with our Infrastructure North partners to better understand how we impact the communities we serve.  We know our maintenance works can be disruptive and that’s why we try to be as innovative as possible to reduce the negative impact we can sometimes have when we’re carrying out essential work.”

James Hatt, Head of Energy at WRc, said:

“WRc is pleased to be working on such an important project for the utilities sector. This project will really help companies justify the right technological and process innovations for network activities, such as mains and cable repair or asset inspections that result in less disruption in day-to-day life for local communities.”

Dean Pearson, Northern Gas Networks’ Demand Forecast Analyst, said:

“It is important to understand, and where possible quantify, the impacts of essential maintenance on communities and the environment so that we can make better decisions as to which investments and activities should be undertaken and when. This information will help to ensure that projects maximise wider benefits, minimise wider costs and deliver value for money.

“This ground-breaking collaboration brings together different elements of societal impact from across the energy sector and beyond. The four networks involved believe that by working collaboratively and researching this topic, the outcome will be a wider and more cohesive approach that could be replicated across the UK.”

Chris Goodhand, Northern Powergrid’s Innovation Manager, said:

“By putting society at the heart of this new research we’ll be able to gain an insight into how the work we do to every day to improve our networks impact on communities.  The outcomes of the research may help inform more innovative approaches that enable more effective investment and better coordinated network projects whilst minimising disruption and delivering long-term enhancements and economic benefits to the communities we serve.”

Richard Seales, Customer Contact Manager at Northumbrian Water, said:

“As a company that relies heavily upon a network that lies underground, we are very conscious of the effects it has on communities when we need to carry out work.

“If we are to make meaningful progress in reducing that impact, we need to work with other organisations, such as gas and electricity providers, to find new ways to work and to share knowledge.

“At our recent NWG Innovation Festival, there was a lot of discussion around such collaborative working and about increasing our understanding of what exactly exists beneath our feet, and I am sure that will all feed in to the wider work of this group and contribute to the positive collective impact we can have.”