AN idea developed from a Northumbrian Water Group hackathon aims to help the company achieve its goal of being carbon-neutral in 2027.

The project team, led by Opencast Software consultants, was named the Castanets and won the Best Visualisation accolade at the end of the three-day Mission Zero hackathon, part of NWG’s annual Innovation Festival, and aimed at exploring how NWG can reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2027.

The festival is a week-long event, dedicated to finding solutions to some of the water sector’s environmental and societal challenges. More than 9,000 people from just under 2,000 companies, organisations and businesses from across the world have taken part and attended previous Innovation Festivals.

Paul Crisp, Architect at Opencast, explained: “NWG’s Innovation Festival is one of the largest and most respected in Europe. It’s an important part of the region’s IT landscape, but it’s also enormous fun.

“I and Opencast consultant Matt Whalley had a great time. We worked with a NWG subject matter expert and a developer from data and information specialists Aiimi, who helped to organise and sponsor the festival for the third year in a row.

“I was recently working on the National Underground Asset Register, a huge project run by the Cabinet Office Geospatial Commission, which was kicked off at NWG’s 2018 hackathon, so it’s a prestige event with an important pedigree. NWG has already been in touch about meetings to take the ideas forward,” Paul added.

The objective of this year’s hackathon was to come up with real-world solutions to decarbonise NWG’s fleet of vans and tankers.

“We were given plenty of data and information, all under non disclosure agreements, and the challenge was around how best to re-engineer NWG’s road fleet – carrying people, tools, material and sludge – across the wide Northumbrian Water footprint,” said Paul.

“Our solution was to step back, and devise an optimisation tool aimed at identifying the most efficient way to move equipment and resources around the region. Our solution used a lot of Open Data and mapping backdrops, and we produced very clear visualisations.

“We took a different approach to the other teams, who did excellent work on modelling carbon footprints by journey, vehicle type, incident type, region and so on. Our proposal was built around how someone like Uber would tackle the challenge. We assumed the right algorithms were in place and asked ourselves ‘where are our vehicles now?’ and ‘what is the most efficient use of those vehicles to achieve what must happen next?

“We spent a day looking at the operation and data, a day building our solution and a day polishing and presenting. As well as providing a workable solution and helping the environment, we also had a great time!”

Other winners at the hackathon were Team Breakoutroom 7, who were awarded Best Overall Solution for a RAG platform to decide which vehicles to use in which situation; and Team WaterScan who were named Best Insight team for a route mapping solution aimed at reducing the overall impact of greenhouse gases.

Kate Wilson, Fleet Services Manager at NWG, said: “It was so exciting to have real, tangible solutions that support our low carbon fleet plan. All of the solutions will help NWG with the huge challenge of delivering a green fleet – I’m really excited to take the projects forward and I’m impressed with the rigorous data first approach the teams have shown.

“All of our hack teams rose to the challenge by approaching the problem from a wide range of angles, trawling through 1gb+ of data to produce an astonishing array of insights and ambitious, leading-edge solutions.

“Each team worked incredibly hard, understanding the importance of leveraging their data science and machine learning skills to support NWG’s aim to be carbon neutral by 2027. NWG operates more than 1000 vans and 25 HGVs across the North East and South East. These vehicles are essential for delivering an unrivalled customer experience, but vehicle movements come at a considerable cost – last year NWG used 3.5 million litres of diesel, leading to emissions of 8,500 tonnes of CO2.

“That’s why the Mission Zero hackathon and solutions such as that produced by the Castanets, are so important to us.”

Opencast specialises in building and running enterprise IT systems for the Government, key public bodies and global financial services. Clients include JP Morgan Chase and Co, Sage, NHS Business Services Authority, HMRC, DWP and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.