Ofwat, the economic regulator for the water sector in England and Wales, is calling on water companies with bold and innovative projects to solve some of the water sector’s biggest challenges to apply to win the fourth Water Breakthrough Challenge.
To date, Ofwat’s £200 million (about US$250 milion) Innovation Fund has awarded more than £105 million (about US$131 million) to projects across England and Wales that are pioneering solutions to improve the water sector’s environmental impact – from the transition to net zero to tackling leaks and spills – and to transform services for consumers.
Since 2020, the Water Breakthrough Challenges have seen water companies form new cross-sector collaborations with gas and electric utility providers, universities, charities, SMEs, tech giants, local governments and community organisations.
Previous winners have included robots that patrol water and wastewater pipes to pinpoint cracks, carbon capture technology to convert CO2 into household products, seagrass meadow restoration off the Welsh coast, and projects to power city buses with gas extracted from sewage.
Ofwat will reward up to £40 m (about US$50 m) to even more daring and forward-thinking partnerships led by water companies in Water Breakthrough Challenge 4. It is encouraging entrants to think bigger than ever before and will favour entrants with the greatest focus on generating and sharing knowledge across and beyond the water sector, and those rolling out successful innovations.
Marc Hannis, Innovation Fund Manager, Ofwat said:
“There are many challenges that the water sector needs to overcome in the next decade. They include the widely reported issues like leakage rates and sewage discharge into rivers. They also include less well-known challenges, like transitioning an industry that uses 3% of the country’s electricity to net zero while contending with the impacts of climate change and ensuring better quality services for customers.
“While it is our job as a regulator to hold water companies to account when they do not meet their obligations, we also want to incentivise water companies to accelerate innovative ideas that drive positive changes for the environment and consumers. Water Breakthrough Challenge 4 is calling for even bolder initiatives and will reward collaborations that generate and share knowledge, and roll out successful innovations.”
Water Breakthrough Challenge 4 has two entry streams:
- Approximately £10 million (US$12 m) is available through the Catalyst Stream for individual entries bidding for between £150,000 and £2 million. The closing date for Catalyst Stream entries is 3 January 2024.
- Approximately £30 million (US$37 m) is available through the two-stage Transform Stream for individual entries bidding for between £2 million and £10 million – although Ofwat is open to accepting entries bidding for more than £10 million, subject to certain conditions. The closing date for stage one is 19 October 2023, with stage two closing on 10 January 2024.
Partnerships must be led by water companies in England or Wales, including NAVs. Applicants must commit to contributing an additional 10% of the project value submitted in their bid.
Entries should respond to one of more of the fund’s innovation themes:
- Responding and adapting to climate change including achieving the sector ambitions of net zero carbon, zero waste and zero leakage.
- Protecting and enhancing the environment and natural systems, to protect current and future customers from the impacts of extreme weather and pollution.
- Delivering long-term operational resilience and understanding infrastructure risks to customers and the environment, finding solutions to mitigate these in sustainable and efficient ways.
- Testing new ways of conducting core activities to deliver the services customers and society need, expect and value both now and in the future.
Water Breakthrough Challenge 4 is designed and delivered with open innovation competition experts Challenge Works, and sustainable design, engineering and technology experts Arup and Isle Utilities.
Water companies who would like the fund’s delivery team to help brief their staff or supply chain about the opportunities presented by Water Breakthrough Challenge 4 can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Water Breakthrough Challenge, including details of previous winners and how to enter, visit waterinnovation.challenges.org