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Britain’s buried treasure

Geovation works with utilities to reveal the business opportunities beneath our feet.

The latest Geovation Challenge has identified that we are literally standing on lucrative business opportunities, and is inviting GeoTech entrepreneurs to take advantage and win support and funding for ideas that can help the nation manage its underground assets better.

Underground assets Geovation Challenge 2016


The business opportunities were identified during consultations with senior figures from utility companies, the owners of underground pipe and cable networks and those responsible for their maintenance – the Geovation team asked ‘what keeps you awake at night?’.

As a result, 55 problem areas requiring innovative solutions were brought to the surface.

The consultation also revealed how opportunities to innovate in the utilities industry could be greatly improved if Britain’s underground infrastructure is properly mapped. In many cases this infrastructure has been inherited from Victorian times. Often paper records detailing the whereabouts of cables, pipes and other assets have not been kept, and where paper records have been kept they’ve yet to be accurately digitised.

It is thought that through improved asset management and operations and the digitisation of records, production could be increased by 15% and profitability by 20-30%. Also revealed was the value of sharing data between utility companies and innovators to effectively resolve problems.

Viv Alexander, Geovation Challenge producer, says: “All of us as pedestrians and road users are all too familiar with disruptions caused by water companies, or utility companies or telecoms excavating paths and roads. What perhaps is not realised is that 10% of these digs are just for exploratory purposes, attempting to locate where actual assets are. It is thought the impact of this alone costs Britain around £5.5 billion per year.”

Earlier this year the Institute of Chartered Engineers said no UK Infrastructure has been rated ‘fit for future’. In 2013 HM Treasury identified the need for a more efficient, sustainable utility infrastructure to cope with a population growth that is expected to hit 73 million by 2025, and that the infrastructure must meet the standard of other developed economies or it will risk costing the national economy up to £90 billion a year.

Viv Alexander further explains: “Through this Geovation Challenge we want to support entrepreneurs and hook them up to industry players with very real needs. We applaud the utility companies for working openly together with us in exploring how GeoTech might enable innovative solutions to the problems they’ve identified.”

Northern Gas Network’s Head of Innovation & Energy Futures, Andrew Irwin, says: “Providing a clear view of what’s underneath our footpaths and highways to those companies that have to excavate in them will make it safer for the operatives involved, less disruptive for the customer and more efficient for the company. It is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Industry figures also identified London’s Heathrow airport as a shining example of successfully managing underground assets. The airport, which serves 180,000 visitors per day, has an abundance of underground assets – including 45,000 manholes, 115km of water mains and 130km of fuel pipelines. Between 2002 and 2011, extensive mapping work was conducted and possession of this accurate data has reduced asset strike incidences by over 80%.

To find out more about the problems giving utility, telecoms and water companies sleepless nights, and how to enter the Geovation Challenge visit: https://geovation.uk/challenge/

Notes to Editors

The companies and organisations present to help the Geovation team identify the problem areas: British Geological Survey, Department for Transport, Elgin, Ernst & Young, GeoEnable, GeoPlace, Greater London Authority, Network Rail, Northern Gas Networks, Ordnance Survey, Southern Water, Subscan Technology, UK Power Networks, United Utilities, University of Birmingham.

About the Geovation Challenge

This is the tenth Geovation Challenge since launching in 2009. In that time Geovation has created 34 new GeoTech ventures and given almost £800,000 in development funding. All challenges seek to address specific needs within communities and build resilience in response. https://geovation.uk/challenge/

About Ordnance Survey

Britain’s mapping agency, Ordnance Survey makes the most up-to-date and accurate digital and paper maps of the country. Each day OS makes over 10,000 changes to its database of more than 500 million geographic features. Since 1791 OS content has been used to help governments, companies and individuals work more effectively both here and around the world. The information OS gathers helps keep the nation, economy and infrastructure moving. www.os.uk/about/

Contact us

For more information:

Contact: Keegan WilsonSenior Press Officer

Email: keegan.wilson@os.uk

Phone: (+44) 023­80 055332


Channel website: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/

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