Lila Thompson: Innovation fund kickstarts cultural shift in water
The water sector is on a trajectory towards technological transformation, with innovation and partnership moving centre stage, writes Lila Thompson, chief executive, British Water.
Innovation in Water Challenge
At the forefront of addressing climate change and at the heart of the post-Covid green recovery, there has never been a better time to work in water. Yet, new talent and ideas are needed to address urgent environmental and economic challenges and meet net-zero carbon targets.
Paving the way for the roll-out of new solutions is the Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC), initiated by regulator Ofwat and being run by Nesta Challenges supported by Isle Utilities and Arup.
The first round was open to water companies in England and Wales, who could partner with any organisation in any sector to enter. I was honoured to be invited onto the judging panel and am looking forward to the winners being announced this spring. Each is set to receive part of a £2 million innovation fund.
The IWC is the first in a series of competitions funded through Ofwat's Innovation Fund. The second, the Water Breakthrough Challenge, which has a total prize pot of £40 million for larger innovative initiatives, opens for entries on 6 May 2021.
“The Innovation Fund opens the door to new cross-sector relationships.”
By putting measures in place to facilitate partnerships with organisations of all sizes, the Innovation Fund opens the door to new cross-sector relationships that could yield transformative results. Not only a fantastic boost for the water industry in England and Wales, but the funding could also spark change globally.
Pressing issues for water worldwide
The competitions' themes focus on climate change, net-zero carbon targets, the protection of water environments, sustainability and resilience – all pressing issues for the water sector worldwide.
I know many of our international peers will be watching the competition with interest. The outcomes could position the UK among global water innovation leaders such as the Netherlands, Singapore and Israel.
When it comes to business-as-usual innovation practices, it is widely acknowledged that there is still work for the UK water utilities. SMEs and start-ups regularly encounter difficulties in their attempts to engage with utilities due to historic procurement processes acting as barriers to bringing new partners on board.
Catalysing a permanent cultural shift
British Water’s 2020 water company performance survey revealed the rate of uptake of new technologies continues to cause frustration.
This is why, with the help of MWH Treatment, we have created a Water Innovation Map collating up-to-date information about water companies’ innovation strategies, areas of focus and direct available contacts.
“I hope the Innovation Fund will prove to be a catalyst for a permanent cultural shift in the industry.”
The guide, which also reveals where particular water companies are leading the way on innovation, along with a newly formed British Water Sustainability Supply Chain Task Force, should help support efforts to grow the sector’s capacity to innovate.
While I know Ofwat's Innovation Fund will result in the roll-out of some brilliant solutions, I also hope it will prove to be a catalyst for a permanent cultural shift for the industry and its adoption and scaling up new technologies.
I also look forward to hearing about the global rollout and adoption of these emerging technologies and techniques in the years ahead.
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