Water ‘batteries’ and AI for algae: Ofwat allocates £40m green innovation funding
Ofwat will allocate millions of pounds to 16 new sustainable innovation projects, including the UK’s first full-scale carbon-neutral wastewater works and a network of farm-based water ‘batteries’.
The water regulator is awarding the funding under its Water Breakthrough Challenge, to the tune of £40m. edie spoke exclusively to Ofwat’s senior director of strategy, finance and infrastructure John Russell about this funding in March.
One of the 16 successful projects, announced today (16 May), will see farmers paid to store water on their land using nature-based methods. This will improve the quality of their soils and the level of biodiversity on their land, but could also help to manage water availability during droughts. Farmers could discharge their systems at peak times of demand and low times of supply – as would be the case with electricity storage.
The water net-gain project, also called the water battery project, is being led by South West Water. Ofwat has awarded it almost £1m.
Summer 2022 was the driest in Britain for almost three decades. Drought was declared in multiple regions and, as 2023 began, two-thirds of rivers were below normal levels for January.
The project taking the lion’s share of the funding in this third round of the Water Breakthrough Challenge is the UK’s first full-scale, carbon-neutral wastewater works.
Ofwat is awarding Severn Trent Water and its partners on the Net-Zero Hub project £10m. The project will see one of the company’s wastewater treatment plant retrofitted with technologies including energy efficiency improvements, anaerobic treatment and onsite renewables, alongside nature-based solutions. The result will be carbon-neutral operations.
The aim is to create a blueprint that can be used across the UK’s water sector, which is targeting net-zero operational emissions by 2030. International water companies are also interested in this project, which has garnered support from firms in Australia and Denmark.
As well as looking at climate mitigation, Ofwat is also supporting climate adaptation for the sector. It has awarded more than £900,000 to Anglian Water Services for a climate resilience demonstrator project, which will model the impacts of extreme heat on the water system and how these impacts could carry over into other sectors. A digital twin will be used to carry out this project.
The UK Government will notably present an updated climate resilience plan later this year. Its climate advisors warned in March that there is currently a “striking lack of preparation” under current plans.
In 2021, the UK Government set a target to reduce water consumption, on a per-capita basis, by 20% by 2038. This will require a change in direction, given that consumption increased by almost 4% between 2015 and 2021.
There will also need to be an acceleration in efforts to combat leaks. In the 2020-21 financial year, England and Wales’ water systems leaked 51 litres of water per person, per day, according to Ofwat. The rate stood around 80 litres for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
As such, several of the projects backed by Ofwat relate to water efficiency.
Severn Trent is taking more than £1.3m for Dark Fibre 2, a project using fibre-optic cables already adjacent to water mains as leak sensors. SES Water is taking £224,000 for work to design a universal access point for water, which would provide a standardised entry point for pressurised water pipes. This will make it easier to insert cameras and other leak detecting and leak remediation technologies.
On consumer efficiencies, Northumbrian Water has received more than £860,000 for a water literacy programme, educating members of the public on how to change behaviours in their workplaces, communities and homes. Similarly, South Staffordshire Water has received £270,000 to research water efficiency behaviours in faith communities.