The Ofwat Innovation Fund: An Incentive for Positive Change in the Water Industry

By Abbie Mowatt

After an exhilarating first in-person event at Severn Trent, the 2022 Rising Stars were joined by some of the previous Rising Stars at the Ofwat office in Birmingham for an afternoon of eye-opening presentations. This event gave the group the opportunity to see the Water Industry from a different perspective and to hear talks from well-established professionals in the regulatory sector. For me personally, the most inspiring of these talks was centered on the Innovation Fund.

Ofwat, the Economic Regulator for England and Wales, created this £200 million Innovation Fund to grow the Water Sector’s capacity to innovate. This, in turn, enables the sector to better meet the evolving needs of customers, society, and the environment. Through this fund, Ofwat is delivering a series of innovation competitions that water companies, in partnerships with others, can enter. The Innovation Fund is delivered in partnership with Nesta Challenges and is also supported by companies such as Arup and Isle Utilities. The fund is designed to complement Ofwat’s existing approach to innovation and to help deliver against Ofwat’s strategy. This is achieved by highlighting the role of innovation in meeting many of the challenges the Water Sector faces today and how important new ideas are in moving it forward.

In order to secure the funding, water professionals enter competitions that are focused on rewarding entries that deliver innovation in line with five key strategic themes which are:

  • Responding and adapting to climate change
  • Restoring and improving the ecological status of our water environments
  • Understanding long-term operational resilience and infrastructure risks to customers and the environment, finding solutions to mitigate these in sustainable and efficient ways
  • Testing new ways of conducting core activities to deliver wider public value
  • Exploring the opportunities associated with open data, stimulating innovation and collaboration

The most recent competition was the second round of the Water Breakthrough Challenge. This challenge called for innovative initiatives that deliver benefits for customers, whilst also considering impacts on society and the environment. While the entries to this specific competition are now closed, it is expected that a new wave of challenges will not be far behind. Those who have already entered will be waiting with bated breath until the winners are announced in Spring of 2022.

From the presentation given, it was evident that Ofwat is passionate about this project and believe in the innovation capabilities of the Water Industry. It was also clear that Ofwat has  dedicated time and resources to allow this fund to become a reality. Our group took many key insights away from this session, including the importance of investing in new ideas, listening to others when they show potential to propose positive change, and to think ourselves about how we can bring innovation to the Water Sector during our careers.

Different rounds of these competitions are expected to run until 2025, however it’s clear that the impact that these competitions can have on the Water Industry as a whole will continue well beyond this date. The Rising Stars would collectively like to thank Ofwat for showing us the fascinating projects and for continually investing in the betterment of the Water Industry in England and Wales. Many new ideas can be overlooked at time due to a lack of resources and funding, especially during trying times. However, it is through projects such as the Innovation Fund that these ideas are allowed to flourish which, in turn, creates a more dynamic and adaptive Water Sector – something from which we all benefit.

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