Ofwat has awarded funding of around £40 million to 16 projects, with a project led by Northumbrian Water and supported by Sia Partners among one of the winning projects.
Ofwat is the Water Services Regulation Authority for England and Wales. As the organisation sought to improve the way the UK’s water industry – which has come under mounting scrutiny in recent years, relating to its sewage release activity in particular – meets the demands of customers, society and the environment, it established a £200 million Innovation Fund.
As part of this fund, Ofwat has rolled out a series of competitions, run by Challenge Works in partnership with Arup and Isle Utilities. Designed to drive innovation and collaboration in the sector to benefit individuals, society and the environment, the challenges include the Water Breakthrough Challenge, launched in October 2022. Now, the 16 winners of the contest have been announced – sharing in prize funds worth an approximate £40 million.
David Black, CEO at Ofwat, commented, “The water sector has faced mounting pressure over systemic challenges related to the environment and society, while the surrounding climate continues to drastically change shape. That’s why we’re funding ground-breaking innovations with potential to help us save and reuse water and wastewater products, while supporting wider society.”
Among the projects to have triumphed is ‘Stream’, an initiative to design and deliver the ‘network of data pipes’ needed to share useful industry datasets in a secure, standardised and easy to access way. The scheme aimed to “allow data to flow into larger datasets”, something which its proponents claim will enable water companies to collaboratively solve “tough sector challenges” – possibly involving a different kind of flow – and has been handed £3,973,205 in funding from Ofwat’s Innovation Fund to make that a reality.
Stream was first proposed by Northumbrian Water CIO Nigel Watson at an informal industry dinner and subsequently submitted to the Water Breakthrough Challenge, with wide industry backing. Led by Northumbrian Water, the initiative saw the organisation partner with Thames Water, Severn Trent Water, Scottish Water, SES Water, United Utilities, South West Water, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, Southern Water, Yorkshire Water.
Watson said at the initiatives launch, “It does feel like an important day for the industry. Open Data is increasingly important. All of the companies need to get to net zero. We ourselves have an ambition to get there in the next five years; the industry is trying to get there by 2030… I think Open Data can help us learn from each other about how we are operating assets, using energy – the water industry is the UK’s fourth most energy-intensive industry – and reacting to the impact of climate change that’s already baked in.”
One year on, Stream will now put in place technology and processes to remove the barriers to opening up and sharing water company data. It follows several previous rounds of competition which have already seen numerous innovative projects win funding, including solutions that introduce rainwater storage systems to local communities and minimise water demand in new building projects.
The project also benefited from the expertise of a number of professional services firms. These consisted of AWG Group, Aiimi, Open Data Institute and Costain, and consulting firm Sia Partners. The consultancy has a long history of supporting change in the utilities sector – which has also led to the firm’s previous nomination at the MCA Awards in the strategy field for its work with energy firm EDF.