Published On 09/03/2021

Customer behaviour and choices – rather than socioeconomics and weather – are the key to understanding household water use to help meet ambitious reductions in water abstraction, an UKWIR Big Questions project1 has revealed.

Household water use makes up over half of the total demand for water, which comes from a natural environment already under increasing pressure from climate change and population growth.  
Now, the latest UKWIR research in this area, has analysed hourly consumption data and identified 10 different profiles of consumption that customers could be assigned to and their specific water using features. This segmentation approach provides a powerful new tool for understanding customer demand.
Using the new approach showed that water consumption through the day is highly dynamic, with profiles of water use varying from weekends to weekdays, and throughout the year. 
Furthermore, while customers often fall within the same profile, they frequently move between profiles depending on their behaviour and choices and, of course, the amount of water they use also changes between seasons.
As a result, the findings are likely to challenge existing assumptions – notably the use of static or simplistic profiles of demand through the year – and contribute to the evidence base for a more representative model of demand in water planning.
The project also showed that 10 per cent of households used 25 per cent of total water used, highlighting the importance of an effective water efficiency strategy for high users. 
As a result, the findings have shown how the more detailed consumption data that companies are obtaining from new metering technologies allows a deeper understanding of demand – and contributes to the evidence base for a more representative model of demand in water planning.
Paul Merchant, UKWIR Programme Lead and Supply Demand Manager at South West Water, said: “This project has brought together a huge amount of data on household water use and gives water companies a tantalising glimpse of a completely new way of understanding and reducing demand for water.
“This project supports the idea that the effect of customer behaviour has a bigger impact on water consumption than socioeconomics or weather. This provides potential new avenues for how companies target their water efficiency activities and assess the likely impacts.”
Andrew Ball, Technical Director at HR Wallingford which led the project with Decision Lab and Mease, said: “The project’s outputs reflect the complexity of trying to calculate the various components of overall demand for water; this is not a case of one set of analysis and one magic quick fix that helps reduce demand at the tap and therefore abstractions from our natural environment.
“Instead, because of the data we received, and the novel approaches the project team used, we were able to undertake lots of different analysis and produce an interesting range of conclusions.  We have used some techniques which, as far as we are aware, have not been used before. The result is the potential for a whole new insight into how we understand water use, and in particular the variations between properties.”
Recommendations from the project include:

  • Companies’ demand analysis needs to be considered from a data-driven perspective and use the project’s methodology to explore factors and patterns specific to their local datasets and supply area
  • Methodology guidance should be developed so water companies can make best use of water consumption metering data in line with emerging best practice, including data management and GDPR
  • Data sharing is critical if water companies are to collectively tackle household water use but they need to determine standards and procedures on data sharing within GDPR regulations

  • Recording and archiving of data by water companies is crucial to identify long-term trends and they should consider the additional value of using higher-resolution data too

The UKWIR project, which was overseen by a steering group comprising water company members, the Environment Agency, Water UK and Waterwise, has now set out further avenues for research and proposed the setting up of long-term studies for water companies and regional water resource groups to consider.