Why it’s time to get your water ideas flowing
02 Feb 2021
We’ve recently launched the first Innovation in Water Challenge, the first of two innovation competitions created by Ofwat to transform the water sector in England and Wales over the next five years.
It is backed by a £200 million innovation fund which will be awarded to winning entries that can enable the sector to meet current and future needs of customers, society and the environment.
This first Challenge is an opportunity to win up to £250,000 to support, grow or scale ideas to address challenges in the water sector through partnership. You can find out more on the Ofwat Innovation Fund website – but if you still need convincing, we’ve been reflecting on some of the reasons why the oft-forgotten water sector is so important…
It affects everything in our everyday lives
Last week, the water in my taps – and the taps of thousands of households around me – turned brown. The outrage and panic was resounding on Twitter and on the streets, where the local water company quickly deployed engineers and even a bottled water station for worried residents to fill up on water for drinking and handwashing. Despite the panic and the somewhat unappealing colour, the water in my taps was completely safe. It contained iron sediment that had come loose from pipes in routine maintenance. For me, this echoed just how much we take clean water for granted – and how quickly chaos would ensue if there genuinely were a problem with water supply.
When I lived abroad without a reliable water supply, the price of food in the market went up if it hadn’t rained for three or more days. Rainfall in the UK is unlikely to have such an immediate impact, but if water scarcity increases, the price of food and other water-intense products will eventually go up.
The water sector is critical to the UK’s net-zero transition
It’s estimated that the water sector uses 3% of the total energy used in the UK, and is responsible for 1% of carbon emissions, thanks to pumping, water treatment and waste management – making it the fourth most energy-intensive industry in the UK. Coupled with the fact that water has vast potential for renewable energy production, this means that the water sector is central to hitting our net zero carbon emissions in the UK.
In 2009, the Environment Agency published a report stating how the water sector could take advantage of eight renewable energy production options – from anaerobic digestion to hydropower. Many water companies have deployed renewable energy technology across their sites across the UK, but there is still much untapped potential.
Climate change is already having a significant impact on water – and it’s going to get worse
According to the Met Office, extended periods of extreme winter rainfall are now seven times more likely. They also estimate that the total rainfall on extremely wet days has increased by about 17%. What this means in practice is that it rains more on a smaller proportion of days, resulting in floods and waterlogged ground, with the water quickly rushing away from the soggy ground into rivers and streams. This in turn means that less water is distributed across the year, which can contribute to water shortages or even lead to droughts.
We need to find new solutions to live with this new climate reality, especially as one in ten new homes now built are in places that are at high risk of flooding.