Utilities Analysis Europe

Ofwat’s Breakthrough Challenge: Nine Projects Get Funding

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Nine projects have received a share of £36 million in funding from water regulator Ofwat as part of its 'Breakthrough Challenge' as it seeks to secure the future of England's rivers and freshwater networks.

Creating an innovative and collaborative water Sector

On 30 September, water regulator Ofwat announced the nine winners of its Water Breakthrough Challenge that aims to help improve not only the environment but also the service for customers in the water sector.

This inaugural fund was targeted at initiatives run by water companies that would otherwise be unable to invest in or dedicate significant resources.

In total, £36 million has been awarded to nine individual projects that include water utilities, university bodies and start-ups.

Of the nine projects, the winners of the first round included an AI system for enabling autonomous waste catchments, alternative approaches to phosphorus removal from wastewater and even a new system that creates hydrogen from sewage.

£36 million has been awarded to nine individual projects that include water utilities, university bodies and start-ups.

The Breakthrough Challenges is the second in a series of innovation funds run by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges following the Innovation Water Challenge that took place earlier in 2021.

This fund is part of Ofwat's £200 million Innovation Fund that is seeking to develop the water sector's capacity to innovate as well as developing its ability to meet the needs of its customers.

It comes as the water sector starts to see more innovation competitions arise, with Xylem’s recent innovation contest to connect students to water challenges.

On top of the £36 million funding for the nine projects, Ofwat has also awarded £9 million to projects that will tackle the health of rivers and waterways and building resilience to climate change.

Plus, another £12.8M has been awarded to projects that will target the need to drastically reduce the emission of CO2 and further £14.2M for projects that aim to resolve challenges facing communities and vulnerable water users - such as reducing leakages and slash water bills.

The notorious nine

So what projects have been awarded a share of the fund:

Phosphorus removal on rural wastewater treatment plants - United Utilities

United Utilities will lead a project providing a holistic view of what can be achieved using alternative phosphorus removal approaches.

The UK water industry spends in the region of £39 million a year on metal coagulants. Finding a suitable alternative would reduce this and the carbon associated with the manufacture and delivery of these chemicals.

Project partners: United Utilities, Southern Water, Thames Water, University of Portsmouth, Power & Water, Evergreen, Hydro Industries, Kolina.

AI of Things enabling autonomous waste catchments - A cross-sector coalition

A cross-sector coalition, led by Seven Trent Water – with partners including Microsoft, BT, the National Cyber Security Centre and the University of Exeter – to pilot the use of artificial intelligence that monitors a waste catchment area in real-time to minimise the risk of flooding and sewage pollution.

With the water industry accounting for 35 per cent of river pollution, the project has received around £2 million to develop new and integrated approaches for spill prevention.

Rich Walwyn, head of asset intelligence & innovation at Severn Trent Water, said: "By leveraging the power of the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, we will be able to maximise the use of the available capacity in our network to reduce floodings and storm overflows as well as optimising our treatment works to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Project partners: Severn Trent Water, South West Water, Southern Water, Thames Water, Hafren Dyfrdwy Water, Northumbrian Water, Microsoft, Rockwell, British Telecom, Blackburn-Starling, 8power, National Cyber Security Centre, Exeter University.

Catchment Systems Thinking Cooperative (CaSTCo) - United Utilities and Rivers Trust

CaSTCo has been awarded £7.1 million to revolutionise the way data about England and Wales’ water environment is gathered and shared, in particular on the health of the nation’s rivers.

This project will ensure there is an evidence base for tackling environmental challenges with direct support for local evidence gathering and community engagement in eight demonstration catchments, and a national framework of standardised tools and training.

Project partners: United Utilities, The River Trust, Thames Water Utilities Ltd, South West Water Ltd, Southern Water Services Ltd, Dŵr Cymru Anglian Water Services Ltd, Severn Trent Water Ltd, Yorkshire Water Services Ltd, Northumbrian Water Ltd, Affinity Water, South East Water, Earthwatch Institute, The Freshwater Biological Association, The Zoological Society of London, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Cardiff University, University of Exeter, Natural Course EU Life Integrated Project, Hummingbird Technologies

Flexible local water supply schemes - Bristol Water, RWE, Castle Water and the University of the West of England

Bristol Water, in partnership with Binnies, RWE, Castle Water and The University West of England has been awarded over £620,000 to pilot a novel solution to drought planning while reinventing the water retail market as we know it.

Project partners: Bristol Water, Binnies, RWE, Castle Water, the University of the West of England.

Safe Smart Systems - Anglian Water & partners

Anglian Water and its partners have been awarded £7.5 million for their Safe Smart Systems project.

The project will use artificial intelligence and mathematical optimisation to improve long-term operational resilience in the face of climate change and rapid population growth.

It will identify, predict, and manage vulnerabilities to reduce leakage, interruptions, and pressure issues across the whole water cycle.

Safe Smart Systems focuses on the first steps to achieve autonomous control in water systems across the UK.

Project partners: Anglian Water, Affinity Water Limited, Airbus Defence and Space, BIM4Water, Bristol Water, Centre for Digital Built Britain, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, Jacobs UK Limited, Microsoft, Portsmouth Water Limited, Skanska UK PLC, South West Water Ltd, Unity Software Inc, The University of Sheffield.

FAIR WATER - Northumbrian Water & partners

The Fair Water project aims to test and develop more effective and sustainable water and energy solutions for people’s homes – including those on low incomes, the elderly and the vulnerable – to find tailored solutions to reducing carbon through energy and water efficiency.

Angela MacOscar, head of innovation at Northumbrian Water, said: “It will not only drive us towards our net-zero targets but will also help to improve the quality of life for our customers.”

Project partners: Northumbrian Water, Northern Gas Networks Ltd, the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Proctor & Gamble Technical Centres Limited, National Energy Action.

Transforming the energy balance of wastewater treatment - Thames Water & partners

A consortium led by Thames Water has been awarded more than £6 million to decarbonise wastewater treatment – reducing nitrous oxide emissions and recovering beneficial resources including phosphorus and nitrogen.

The water industry consumes between two and three per cent of electricity produced in the UK – the same as around two million households – and around 55 per cent of the energy consumed by typical sewage works is processing wastewater.

The project is developing solutions that would reduce the energy required for wastewater treatment.

Project partners: Thames Water, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, University of South Wales, South West Water, and United Utilities.

Triple Carbon Reduction - Anglian Water & partners

Anglian Water’s Triple Carbon Reduction solution has been awarded more than £3.5 million.

It will use novel technologies to target a step-change reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and electricity use in used water treatment and provide a new renewable energy source through green hydrogen production.

Project partners: Anglian Water, Jacobs UK Ltd, OxyMem Ltd, Element Energy Ltd, Northern Ireland Water Ltd, Severn Trent Water Ltd, Scottish Water Ltd, University of East Anglia, Brunel University, Cranfield University.

Water neutrality at NAV sites - Affinity Water & partners

This project will deliver a sustainable, water-saving solution in response to new housing developments being built. Winning £2.9 million, it will minimise water demand and offset water consumption with new technologies, to ensure the total water use in the community remains the same as it was before the new homes were built.

It will achieve this by installing water-saving devices in customers’ homes – such as showerheads, tap inserts and larger equipment that recycle washing machine water or collect rainwater.

Project partners: Affinity Water, Albion Water Limited, Aquality Trading & Consulting Ltd, BUUK Infrastructure UK No 2 Ltd, Grapviners Ltd, H2OiQ Ltd, Hydraloop International, Propelair – Phoenix Product Development Ltd, SDS Ltd, Skewb.

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