Ofwat has announced 11 winners in its first ever Innovation in Water Challenge, who will between them share funding of £2 million to tackle the biggest issues facing the water sector in the coming years.
The 17 water companies in England and Wales were were encouraged to collaborate with each other, businesses within different industries, academia, not-for-profit organisations and supply chain partners on projects with up to £250,000 awarded to successful bids.
There were over 61 entrants, with the winners selected by an independent panel of judges. Amongst the winning entries were projects focussing on leak detection, pipe repair and climate change.
Speaking after the winners of the Innovation in Water Challenge were announced, senior director at Ofwat John Russell said: “Innovation has the potential to drive a sea-change in the water sector and tackle some of the biggest challenges we are facing in society.”
“Solutions that turn wastewater into green hydrogen and the use of artificial intelligence to detect leaks are just some of the cutting-edge winning initiatives that we hope will make a real impact in the coming months and mark the beginning of a new wave of innovation in the sector.”
The winners of the Ofwat Innovation in Water Challenge 2021
AI Sewer & Defect Analysis
A project using artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically recognise features of sewers during CCTV inspections. The use of AI will reduce the cost of inspections and give a better understanding of sewer deterioration.
Led by United Utilities in partnership with Welsh Water, Scottish Water, Severn Trent, Thames, Yorkshire, and Water Research Centre.
Building bespoke software that both volunteers and experts can use to show the impact of habitat degradation on wildlife and ecological communities.
Led by South East Water in partnership with Bristol Water, Earthwatch Europe, Environment Agency, Loughborough University, Natural Resources Wales, SES Water, The River Restoration Centre (RRC), University of Huddersfield and Wessex Water.
Enabling Whole Life Carbon Design
A project to deliver the tools and processes needed to support cultural and behavioural changes which will ultimately lead to a zero carbon emissions water industry.
Led by Anglian Water in partnership with the @one Alliance, Welsh Water, Skanska UK and Sweco UK.
Looking for ways in which waste or by-product materials from one company can be repurposed as raw materials for another.
Led by United Utilities in partnership with International Synergies, Welsh Water, Jacobs, and Severn Trent.
Leak Detection using DarkFibre
Taking unexploited optical fibre strands in existing telecoms cables and using them to detect and prevent leaks in water and wastewater networks.
Led by Hafren Dyfrdwy in partnership with Costain, Welsh Water and Focus Sensor.
Organics Ammonia Recovery
The recovery of ammonia in wastewater for the purpose of turning it into green hydrogen fuel – a first for the water industry.
Led by Northumbrian Water in partnership with Anglian Water, Cranfield University, Organics Group, Warwick University and Wood Group UK.
Seagrass Seeds of Recovery
A project to improve estuaries and coastal waters by restoring seagrass for the purpose of increasing biodiversity and absorbing carbon and nitrogen emissions.
Led by Affinity Water in partnership with Anglian Water, Cefas, Department of Zoology and Wadham College, University of Oxford, Environment Agency, Natural England, Project Seagrass, Salix River & Wetland Services Limited, Swansea University and University of Essex.
Smarter Tanks to build a resilient network
How real-time monitoring and control solutions can be used to monitor drinking water and rainwater storage tanks. This will help to better preserve supplies for when they are needed most, such as during extended dry periods or drought.
Led by Affinity Water in partnership with Aqua Civils and University of Exeter.
Supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances
Making use of behavioural science to support vulnerable customers through planned maintenance, unplanned events and with bill management. At the same time, the project will look at how communication can be improved with those who are hard-to-reach.
Led by Severn Trent in partnership with Consumer Council for Water, South East Water and Thames Water.
UK Water Sector Innovation Centre of Excellence
Partnership between 21 different water companies across the UK and the Republic of Ireland to set up a Water Sector Innovation Centre of Excellence (CoE). The CoE will be a virtual hub to promote collaboration both in and beyond the water sector and drive innovation.
Led by Northumbrian Water, in partnership with Affinity Water, Albion Water, Anglian Water, Bristol Water, Irish Water, Northern Ireland Water, Portsmouth Water, Scottish Water, SES Water, Severn Trent Water, South East Water, South Staffordshire Water, South West Water, Southern Water, Thames Water, UK Water Industry Research, United Utilities, Welsh Water, Wessex Water, and Yorkshire Water.
What next after Ofwat Innovation in Water Challenge 2021?
The Innovation in Water Challenge was the first of two separate competitions being run by Ofwat in 2021. The second is the Water Breakthrough Challenge, where a prize fund of £40 million is up for grabs.
Entries open in May with the competition aiming to spark new approaches and ways of working, driving far-reaching and long-lasting benefits to customers, society and the environment.
The second Innovation in Water Challenge will then follow in the autumn, when Ofwat are hoping for a greater focus from entries on customer facing projects.