Energy among the industries encouraged to take part in Ofwat’s new Innovation Fund consultation

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The water regulator for England and Wales is proposing to run a third Water Breakthrough Challenge in Autumn 2022, a fourth in 2023 and a fifth in either 2024 or 2025, with the potential to run competitions beyond 2025.

The £200m Water Innovation Fund – designed to drive long-lasting change and innovation in the sector – has already generated multi-sector partnerships in response to a series of competitions – including the Innovation in Water Challenge and two Water Breakthrough Challenges.

These competitions were run by Nesta Challenges, in partnership with Arup and Isle Utilities, and have generated innovative solutions from water companies and their partners to the challenges of net zero, environmental impact and improving consumer services.

Winners have included projects to generate green hydrogen from wastewater, partnerships to provide data on water quality to communities in an open and accessible way and novel engineering solutions to prevent pipes bursting, using everything from robots to ‘designer liners’ that can be retrofitted on the inside of water mains.

To maximise the impact of the more than £120 million available, Ofwat is calling for views from a diverse range of sectors that it believes can bring new insights to some of the water sector’s biggest challenges.

In particular, the regulator is keen to hear from individuals, companies and representative bodies across academia, the energy sector, the construction sector, the UK’s space sector, the chemical and pharmaceuticals industry, the digital sector, agriculture and fisheries marine sector, manufacturing and logistics, and the retail banking and fintech sectors.

Going forward, Ofwat wants to consider changes that will enable the fund to support more early-stage ideas in order to allow innovators to have greater access to the fund.

The main proposed changes are to:

  • Open a new annual £4 million competition for early-stage ideas from innovators either in or outside water. It will focus on enabling and supporting earlier stage idea development. This new competition will target primarily innovators and not require a partnership with a water company to enter.
  • Maintain the annual flagship competition, with adjustments to some entry rules to encourage wider participation. It would maintain the Water Breakthrough Challenge with Catalyst and Transform streams for each competition during 2022-25. For Catalyst (entries between £250k and £1million) it would make about £6m available annually, not require a partnership with a water company to enter and allow background IP to be licensed. For Transform (entries between £1m-£10m) it would make about £30 million available annually and allow background IP to be licensed.

The ‘Ofwat Innovation fund consultation – Approach for 2022-25’-consultation closes on 17 May 2022.

More information about this consultation and how to take part is available on the Ofwat website.