£40m Water Breakthrough Challenge calls for new wave of innovation

image of water breakthrough challenge logo

A £40 million innovation competition – the Water Breakthrough Challenge – launches today to spark ambitious innovation and new ways of working in the water sector. 

The Water Breakthrough Challenge aims to equip the water sector to address the big challenges facing the sector, driving far-reaching and long-lasting benefits to customers, society and the environment across England and Wales now and into the future.  It encourages collaborative entries from other sectors and worldwide partners, and aims to fund initiatives which water companies would otherwise have been unable to invest in or explore.

Entries must demonstrate how solutions help the water sector deliver for customers, society and the environment, such as by achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing the impact of extreme weather, or using 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 include green initiatives such as planting and restoring seagrass meadows on the Essex and Suffolk coastlines, a scheme to turn ammonia in wastewater into green hydrogen gas, and software that can monitor 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 behavioural 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. 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.”

John Russell, senior director, Ofwat.

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.

“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".

Arlene Goode, associate, Arup.

Entries must be submitted by water companies in England and Wales, but they can enter in partnership with organisations within and outside the water sector. This could include universities and institutes, retailers, start-ups, or small businesses in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, health, or financial services. Partners for the winning entries to the Innovation in Water Challenge included environmental charities, engineering and construction businesses, and consumer groups.

“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. 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.”

Chris Gorst, director of challenges, Nesta Challenges.

After a first assessment period following entries received by 3 June, selected entrants will be invited to submit more details from 28 June, with the winners announced in September. Winning entries will receive between £1 million and £10 million to support their initiatives.

“We’re excited to be part of Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge, as it is another opportunity to showcase how we are using innovative thinking to further improve the service that we offer to our customers, whilst adapting to new ways of working within the water sector. We acknowledge the challenges that are affecting the sector as a whole and look forward to continue working collaboratively with colleagues across the industry, to collectively achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.”

Andrew McGeoghan, finance and commercial director, Cambridge Water.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge

Find out more about the £40 million challenge and apply.

Posted: 6 May 2021