A £40 million innovation competition – the Water Breakthrough Challenge – was launched in early May 2021 to spark ambitious innovation and new ways of working in the water sector, with the fintech and retail banking industries being strongly urged to get involved.
The Water Breakthrough Challenge, which is being financed through the Ofwat Innovation Fund, aims to facilitate increased conversation amongst those in the water sector in order to address the significant challenges the sector currently faces; with the goal of ultimately garnering far-reaching and long-lasting benefits for both customers and the environment across England and Wales.
The challenge encourages collaborative entries from other sectors and worldwide partners and aims to fund initiatives that water companies would otherwise have been unable to invest in or explore themselves.
Entries must demonstrate how their solutions will help the water sector deliver benefits for customers, society, and the environment, such as by achieving net-zero throughout their operations, protecting natural ecosystems, reducing the impact of extreme weather, or harnessing open data to improve customer service.
The winners of Ofwat’s first innovation competition – the £2m Innovation in Water Challenge – were revealed last month and incorporate the use of green initiatives such as planting and restoring seagrass meadows on the Essex and Suffolk coastlines, a scheme to turn the ammonia found in wastewater into green hydrogen gas, as well as the use of software capable of monitoring the degradation of wildlife habitats.
Other ideas focus on the prevention of leaks in the water network through the use of AI, CCTV, and unexploited optical fibre strands in telecoms networks, as well as using behavioral science to better support vulnerable customers.
“Our innovation competitions are now in full swing and we are beginning to see a wave of innovation across the sector,” comments John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat. “Within the Breakthrough Challenge we are looking forward to seeing continued collaboration outside of the sector from a wide range of industries, and even more cutting-edge projects that tackle the greatest challenges facing our sector, and society as a whole.”
The Water Breakthrough Challenge is funded through Ofwat’s £200 million Innovation Fund, as part of the regulator’s goal to drive innovation and collaboration in the water sector, supporting it to meet the needs of customers, society, and the environment in the years to come. It is being delivered by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, supported by Arup.
Arlene Goode, Associate from Arup added: “This is a great opportunity for water companies and project partners. We’re excited to see the transformative projects which can move the water sector towards meeting its long-term ambitions”.
Entries must be submitted by water companies in England and Wales, but they can enter in partnership with organisations outside the water sector – including in the fintech and retail banking space.
“The winning innovations from the first Innovation in Water Challenge show that the sector is ready to address the major challenges facing the industry, and society,” comments Chris Gorst, Director of Challenges at Nesta Challenges. “A new approach is needed, including new ways of working and greater collaboration, but we have already seen the sector can rise to the challenge and deliver ground-breaking initiatives that change the status quo. We are very excited to see the trailblazing projects that the water companies, and their partners, put forward for the latest competition.”
After a first assessment period following entries received by 3rd June, selected entrants will be invited to submit more details from 28th June, with the winners due to be announced in September. Winning entries will receive between £1 million and £10 million to support their initiatives.