Ofwat unveils an innovation competition to transform water

Ofwat have announced that there will be two innovation competitions held in 2021 for the United Kingdom's water companies and other collaborators
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When Ofwat released its PR19 report into the water industry, one of the most intriguing announcements was that of a new innovation fund, which would challenge water companies, stakeholders and other parties to find solutions to problems affecting the industry through a competition.

Details were vague, but the buzz was palpable. 80 percent of senior executives at water companies backed the creation of the innovation fund.

The competition would offer prize money of £200 million over the next five years for schemes and projects which could help to reduce leaks through pipe repair, cut bills and use technology to improve supply and reliability.

Ofwat have since confirmed the format of the innovation competition, with two contests set to take place in 2021.

The first of those is the ‘Innovation in Water Challenge’ which will open in January. £2 million has been made available with a maximum award of £250,000 per project. Ofwat expects the winners to be announced by March.

Entries will then open in April for 2021’s main competition, where a prize fund of £40 million will be up for grabs. Winning bids and funding will be confirmed by June.

There are five main areas in which Ofwat have stated they want to see innovative solutions developed by entrants:

  • Responding and adapting to the effects of climate change on the water industry and supplies. This includes how the sector can move towards its target of net carbon emissions by 2030.
  • Protecting the environment and the public from pollution and the impact of extreme weather events such as drought and flooding.
  • Improving operational resilience and infrastructure by discovering and adopting new technologies to detect leaks and carry out emergency pipe repairs.
  • Testing new ways of conducting business which can deliver better value for customers.
  • Exploring how open data and collaboration between companies can help to provide a better service, especially for customers in vulnerable circumstances.

Both competitions are directly open to the 17 licensed regional water and wastewater companies operating in the United Kingdom and smaller water and sewerage companies.

Entrants can take part individually or collaborate in partnership with one another. Ofwat is also encouraging water operators to join forces with those in the supply chain and others from outside the sector whose expertise could drive real change, such as data specialists or maintenance experts.

Outside parties who feel they may have a product or solution suited to the competition should seek the collaboration of a water company to enter.

There are examples of these types of cooperation already taking place, including Anglian Water’s use of thermal imaging drones to detect leaks, Northumbrian Water’s adoption of satellite technology, and the integration of smart pipes by SES Water and Yorkshire Water.

These innovative solutions played a part in driving leakage down in 2019-20 to the lowest levels since records began in the United Kingdom.

There are no details as yet of how to enter either of the innovation competitions being run by Ofwat. The regulator has confirmed that a panel of experts will judge the winners and that entrants will need to withstand tough technical scrutiny to be in with a chance of securing funding.

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