Last year, the head of the Environment Agency warned that a lack of water is an ‘existential threat’ facing the UK. Climate change is a major driver of this, with the Met Office predicting that some parts of the UK could see as much as 60% less summer rainfall. This increasingly scarce resource will be stretched further by population growth, particularly in England and Wales, where population is expected to grow by 3.5% and 2.6% by mid-2030, respectively (compared to 2% for Northern Ireland, and 0.3% for Scotland).
All of this means that we need to think differently about how we process, store and use water, whether that’s in our homes, workplaces or industries. Two winners of our inaugural Water Breakthrough Challenge are looking at exactly this issue, exploring innovative techniques to help us make the most of every drop – read on for more information.
The National Infrastructure Commission has estimated that new water supplies equivalent to the water consumed by over nine million people would be needed by the mid 2030’s. Water companies have proposed some large regional projects to increase water supplies, supported by regulators, but there is a need for more flexible, local options too.
This drought resilience initiative, led by Bristol Water and Castle Water with other academic and industry partners, will develop a pilot plant to explore more localised options for water supply. Distributed water schemes like this have the potential to alleviate water shortages during periods of drought, reacting more quickly to rapid changes in demand while greatly reducing the carbon emissions required to pump water from one region to another. Household and retail water customers also stand to benefit, with decreased infrastructure and transport costs and additional competition potentially driving down bills.
As part of the project, we are investigating whether land owned by electricity firm RWE at Didcot power station can be used to supply treated water to us. Bristol Water will be using its extensive knowledge of water treatment to help aid and manage the process. If successful, this will be the first-time public water has been provided outside land owned by water companies.
The funding has been provided as part of Ofwat’s £36million Water Innovation Challenge. This is the first of a series of Ofwat competitions to explore new projects with the potential to deliver long-lasting benefits for customers, society and the environment through innovative thinking.
The Water Breakthrough Challenge seeks solutions to the difficulties facing water and wastewater services today, such as achieving net zero, reducing leakage, and protecting natural ecosystems.
John Reynolds, CEO of Castle Water, said, “This could reinvent the retail and wholesale market as we know it today, fit with our low carbon future and provide much-needed incentives for a step change in business water efficiency.”
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