Since January 2020 UKWIR, Water UK and the 17 UK water utility companies have been working together with Arup, and in consultation with the wider water stakeholder group, to develop a common strategy for innovation in the water utility space, looking towards 2050. This was launched on 14th October 2020 as the “Water Innovation 2050 Strategy”, and aims to help shape the delivery of the new £200M Ofwat Innovation Fund.

Core contributors to the Water Innovation 2050 Strategy.

Some of the GW4 Water Security Alliance Board have been involved with these consultations on behalf of our respective water centres and institutes, to enhance opportunities for engagement and collaboration with the water utilities more generally. With the launch of Ofwat’s £200M Innovation Fund, we hope that this engagement will provide new partnership and collaboration opportunities, and the potential for leverage of Ofwat funding against UKRI and EU research funds.

Dr Tom Arnot has been particularly involved with these discussions over the summer, with Arup, UKWIR and with Ofwat. Whilst the Water Innovation 2050 Strategy is not going to make immediate transformational change, the fact that the 17 water utility companies have got together and drafted an integrated strategy document is a once in a lifetime opportunity to really start driving innovation in the water sector. You can download and read the strategy document from the link above, but in short, the strategy has seven mains themes around which innovation projects will focus, with a view for delivering substantial outcomes by 2050:

  • Providing the services that society needs, expects, and values.
  • Providing clean water for all.
  • Protecting and enhancing natural systems.
  • Delivering resilient infrastructure systems.
  • Achieving net zero carbon.
  • Taking a whole life approach to responsible consumption and production.
  • Enabling diverse future ready people and partnership working.

Ofwat has recently established a £200 million innovation fund to encourage innovations that will transform water and wastewater services in England and Wales. From 2021 Ofwat will be running at least two competitions that water companies and others can enter with their innovations.

  • A £2 million ‘Innovation in Water Challenge’ for funding projects up to £250k. This will open this for entries from January 2021 – but at this stage the scope is not available.
  • A £40 million main competition. This will open for entries from April 2021 – but again the scope is not available.

Ofwat expect to run further similar competitions each year from 2022 to 2025. The last piece of this bit of the story is Ofwat’s ambition to develop a virtual national Centre of Excellence in Water Innovation, in which we hope that the GW4 WSA and WIRC will be key players.

To facilitate operation of the Innovation Fund, Ofwat have recently been running a competition to determine who will operate and administer their Innovation Fund, how it will be governed, and how it will prioritise call topics, and how it will decide which projects get funded.  The result of this competition should be known in the next week or so. We do know that bids to the Ofwat fund must be lead by one of the water utility companies, however the opportunity for collaborative bids involving the academic research community, and hence the potential for leverage against UKRI and EU research funding, is likely to be significant. We will keep you posted as more information is released.

Finally, UKWIR is currently developing a new business model, and the GW4 Water Security Alliance Board are also involved with this activity – with some work coming up over the next few weeks which will focus on mechanisms and processes for engagement between the water utility companies and the academic research base, and supply chain companies. We again hope that this will enhance and expand opportunities for collaboration in the UK water research and innovation area, and of course for WIRC@Bath in particular.

Watch this space for updates and further information as it becomes available.

Posted in: Coastal and ocean engineering, Other, Urban water management, Waste water collection and treatment, Water in the circular economy, Water supply from source to tap, Water, Environment and Infrastructure Resilience, Wessex Water, WIRC @ Bath, WISE CDT


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