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UK 2050 Water Innovation Strategy

A post by Dan GreenHead of Sustainability and Innovation

This month has seen the publication of the UK 2050 water innovation strategy. This has been produced by a coalition of the UK’s water companies with input from a wide range of consultees from across the wider water sector and research and innovation bodies. Its purpose – to set out how we will drive transformational change in our sector through collaborative innovation, in order to deliver greater value for customers and the environment.

Why now? It is true that Ofwat’s announcement of its £200m innovation competition over the next four years has galvanised the water companies. However, we have long recognised that new technology and new ways of working are needed if we are to continue to meet the expectations of our customers and communities, and respond to large scale stresses such as the climate crisis and the ecological emergency. Globally, innovation is certainly needed alongside financial investment to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals for water and sanitation.

At the core of the new strategy are a set of themes and principles.

The themes are seven environmental and social topics for which we need innovation to occur – these relate to public services, clean drinking water, natural systems, resilient infrastructure, net zero carbon, responsible production and consumption, and the people working in water.

The principles are how we will innovate – the ways of working that the sector will adopt. The key concepts here are collaboration, using data, creating opportunities to innovate, and being led by environmental, social and economic purpose.

The strategy goes on to explain ways that innovation can help us achieve long term ambitions for each of the themes.

Of course, it’s crucial that we collectively move from warm words in a strategy to actual implementation of innovation on the ground. A key part of this is the strategy’s vision of a centre of excellence for water innovation. This is unlikely to be a single centre or entity; instead, it will more likely involve bringing together existing innovation activity and facilities across the sector. By being an online ‘virtual’ centre with no geographic boundaries, it should be open and accessible to all, including innovators and solution providers from outside the water sector. 

In some ways, this approach echoes what we have been working towards through the Wessex Water Marketplace. The Marketplace has successfully widened the net to bring in anyone who can help us with specific challenges, assisted by the practice of opening-up datasets.

For now, we are pleased to see the arrival of the UK 2050 water innovation strategy and look forward to working with others in delivering the goals it sets out.