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United Utilities and partners are double winners in £2m innovation challenge

Innovation Funding Warrington 05/05/2021

Company are winners in Ofwat’s Innovation in Water Challenge

• United Utilities is celebrating after two of its collaborative projects made it onto the list of 11 winners in Ofwat’s new Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC).

• The two projects – one training AI to spot defects in sewers, the other exploring innovative ways to re-use water industry wastes and by-products – were awarded a total of £388,819.


Warrington-based water company United Utilities is a double winner in the first round of a new £2 million Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC), funded through Ofwat’s Innovation Fund.

Two projects sponsored by the company made it onto the list of 11 winners and were awarded £388,819 between them.

A further three winning projects included United Utilities as a key partner, meaning the firm is leading, or collaborating, in a total of five out of the 11 chosen schemes.

The two projects being led by United Utilities are:

• AI & Sewer Defect Analysis: United Utilities will work with the Water Research Centre to train artificial intelligence to automatically recognise features in CCTV inspection of sewers, and give a better understanding of sewer deterioration and reduce the cost of inspections. Other partners in this project are: Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water), Scottish Water, Severn Trent Water plc, Thames Water Utilities Limited and Yorkshire Water Services Ltd.

• Industrial Symbiosis: United Utilities will work with Industrial Synergies to explore innovative ways to re-use various wastes and by-products from the water industry as inputs into other processes. Other partners in this project are: Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water), Jacobs, and Severn Trent Water plc.

Recommended by an independent panel of judges, the projects are among 11 collaborative initiatives led by water companies and involving a number of partner organisations, each vying for up to £250,000 to tackle the biggest issues facing the water sector in England and Wales.

Run by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, and supported by Arup and Isle Utilities, the IWC was the first competition this year within Ofwat’s £200 million Innovation Fund. It is part of the regulator’s goal to create an innovative and collaborative water sector that meets the evolving needs of customers, society and the environment in the years to come.

United Utilities has long been recognised as an industry leader when it comes to innovation culture, leadership and ambition. This is partly thanks to its pioneering Innovation Lab, now in its third year, which has been the springboard for several successful new technologies being adopted by United Utilities and the sector.

Kieran Brocklebank, United Utilities’ Head of Innovation, said:The Ofwat fund is a great way for the sector to come together to share our expertise in a collaborative way for the benefit of all our customers, the environment and society as a whole. It’s incredibly gratifying that we have been instrumental in winning two of the inaugural nominations, and be included as partners in another three.”

John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat, said: “Innovation has the potential to drive a sea-change in the water sector and tackle some of the biggest challenges we are facing in society. Solutions such as this will make a real impact in the coming months and mark the beginning of a new wave of innovation in the sector.

“We were particularly pleased to see so many water company collaborations among the entries, and the winning proposal for the development of the sector’s Innovation Centre of Excellence will be crucial in driving future change. We are looking forward to the future rounds of the competitions and supporting even more transformative projects to fruition over the coming years.”

Chris Gorst, Director of Challenges at Nesta Challenges, commented: “It's an important moment for the water sector, which must adapt and innovate to build a sustainable water ecosystem that benefits customers, society and the environment. We were delighted to see such strong collaboration both within and beyond the sector in response to this first Innovation in Water Challenge, and we look forward to seeing these innovations developed and adopted widely in the sector.”

Rachel Skinner, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and chair of the IWC judging panel, said: “It was refreshing to see such a high standard of entries across the breadth of the water sector in this inaugural funding round. Taken together, the shortlisted entries provided a clear snapshot of the industry and its current challenges but also multiple opportunities for widespread transformation in diverse areas ranging from the urgent need for accelerated action on climate mitigation and resilience, to new ways to build value for customers as the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 play out. They also highlighted huge potential for onward cross-sector learning and collaboration that will now be explored in detail. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the funded projects take flight.”

To find out more about the IWC and the full list of winning entries visit