Water companies provide drinking water and sewage services to over 50 million households in England and Wales, with a sewage network that could wrap around the world 13 times. The system is entirely dependent on the streamlined use of technology, with tens of thousands of sensors already tracking blockages and flooding risk, and complex data collection points used to monitor changing water quality. But with large ageing pipelines operating in the context of increasing demand and climate change, the sector faces undeniable and urgent challenges that require action now.
Addressing these challenges requires bold thinking from innovators at the forefront of technology development who are familiar with, and adept at, flexibly using data and the internet of things to resolve challenges across varying processes in numerous industries.
With this in mind, Ofwat has launched the Water Discovery Challenge, a new £4m competition for innovators outside of the water sector with bold ideas that can help solve some of its biggest challenges. Ofwat is calling on innovators working in data and internet of things to apply their ingenuity and skills to deliver breakthrough solutions to be used by the water sector.
The competition is the latest from Ofwat’s £200m Innovation Fund, which seeks to generate new ideas to tackle issues including managing leaks, preventing pollution, improving water efficiency, reducing emissions, boosting flood and drought resilience, prioritising sustainable practices, and supporting vulnerable customers. We need to respond and adapt to climate change, working towards clear common goals and ambitions.
How data can revolutionise the water sector
The adoption of new and innovative technology, data systems and Internet of Things-based networks could have vast potential for the water sector – from improved water treatment technology to flooding risk management.
This might include the development and introduction of data systems to help manage remote sources and improve water quality – through using sensors to collect and transmit data from geographically disparate locations across the country. Technology could also be used to spot, flag and monitor leaks in inaccessible or remote locations, as well as improve customer satisfaction – by boosting ease of access to bills and usage data.
Previous Ofwat Innovation Fund competitions have seen numerous winning ideas based on intelligent use of data, internet of things and technologies, proving the potential for cross-sector thinking to transform the water sector.
Winning data-related entries include Stream, an open data system which will allow better insights into leaks, customer needs and accountability, making it easier to solve complex industry challenges. Stream will design and deliver the ‘network of data pipes’ needed to share useful industry datasets in a secure, standardised and easy to access way. This will enable water companies to collaboratively solve tough sector challenges.
Similarly, Unlocking Digital Twins is creating virtual copies of physical datasets, that can be used in the same way as the real product. The project will mean that shared standards can be established for data.
Support for All seeks to put in place a shared register of financially vulnerable customers, working with the NHS, third sector, and other utility providers, to enable customers to contact one utility or service provide to receive support from all.
It’s not only data that has been recognised, but advanced technologies too. Water Quality As-A-Service Treatment-2-Tap project is exploring how sensor technology could identify poor quality water, alerting companies ahead of customers and allowing them to tackle the issues causing the problem.
How to enter the Water Discovery Challenge
Up to 20 teams of the most promising innovators will be awarded up to £50,000 to develop their ideas, with expert support and mentoring from water companies. Up to 10 will go on to win up to £450,000 to turn ideas into pilots.
To deliver the competition, Ofwat is working with innovation prize experts Challenge Works, alongside global engineering, sustainability and water sector experts Arup, and Isle Utilities. In addition to financial incentives, successful teams will benefit from expert mentoring and capacity-building support, including access to insights and mentoring from water companies and support for scaling solutions for the extensive water network in England and Wales.
The Water Discovery Challenge closes on 5 April 2023. To find out more and to enter, visit waterinnovation.challenges.org
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