PN 11/21 Water Breakthrough Challenge opens for entries to bring new wave of innovation to sector

  • The £40 million Water Breakthrough Challenge aims to spark ambitious innovation and enable new approaches and ways of working to address the big challenges facing the sector.
  • Entries are now open until Thursday 3 June 2021 with successful partnerships winning up to £10 million to develop and implement their initiatives.
  • The Breakthrough Challenge is run by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, supported by Arup, and is the second in a series of competitions funded through Ofwat’s Innovation Fund.
  • The winners of Ofwat’s first competition – the Innovation in Water Challenge – include projects that turn ammonia in wastewater into green energy and use artificial intelligence (AI) and unexploited telecoms cables to detect leaks in the water network.

6 May 2021 A £40 million innovation competition – the Water Breakthrough Challenge – launches today to spark ambitious innovation and new ways of working in the water sector.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge aims to equip the water sector to address the big challenges facing the sector, driving far-reaching and long-lasting benefits to customers, society and the environment across England and Wales now and into the future.  It encourages collaborative entries from other sectors and worldwide partners, and aims to fund initiatives which water companies would otherwise have been unable to invest in or explore.

Entries must demonstrate how solutions help the water sector deliver for customers, society and the environment, such as by achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing the impact of extreme weather, or using open data to improve customer service.

The winners of Ofwat’s first innovation competition – the £2m Innovation in Water Challenge – were revealed last month and include green initiatives such as planting and restoring seagrass meadows on the Essex and Suffolk coastlines, a scheme to turn ammonia in wastewater into green hydrogen gas, and software that can monitor the degradation of wildlife habitats. Other ideas focus on the prevention of leaks in the water network through the use of AI, CCTV, and unexploited optical fibre strands in telecoms networks, as well as using behavioural science to better support vulnerable customers.

John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat, said: “Our innovation competitions are now in full swing and we are beginning to see a wave of innovation across the sector. Within the Breakthrough Challenge we are looking forward to seeing continued collaboration outside of the sector from a wide range of industries, and even more cutting-edge projects that tackle the greatest challenges facing our sector, and society as a whole.”

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is funded through Ofwat’s £200 million Innovation Fund, as part of the regulator’s goal to drive innovation and collaboration in the water sector, supporting it to meet the needs of customers, society and the environment in the years to come. It is being delivered by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, supported by Arup.

Arlene Goode, Associate from Arup added: “This is a great opportunity for water companies and project partners. We’re excited to see the transformative projects which can move the water sector towards meeting its long term ambitions”.

Entries must be submitted by water companies in England and Wales, but they can enter in partnership with organisations within and outside the water sector. This could include universities and institutes, retailers, start-ups, or small businesses in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, health, or financial services. Partners for the winning entries to the Innovation in Water Challenge included environmental charities, engineering and construction businesses, and consumer groups.

Chris Gorst, Director of Challenges at Nesta Challenges, commented: “The winning innovations from the first Innovation in Water Challenge show that the sector is ready to address the major challenges facing the industry, and society. A new approach is needed, including new ways of working and greater collaboration, but we have already seen the sector can rise to the challenge and deliver ground-breaking initiatives that change the status quo. We are very excited to see the trailblazing projects that the water companies, and their partners, put forward for the latest competition.”

After a first assessment period following entries received by 3 June, selected entrants will be invited to submit more details from 28 June, with the winners announced in September. Winning entries will receive between £1 million and £10 million to support their initiatives.

To find out more and apply visit

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Notes to Editor:

For all media enquiries contact:

Robyn Margetts, [email protected]

About Ofwat’s Innovation Fund

Ofwat has established a £200 million Innovation Fund to grow the water sector’s capacity to innovate, enabling it to better meet the evolving needs of customers, society and the environment.

From 2021 we will run at least two types of competitions that water companies, in partnership with others, can enter with their innovations.

  • A £2 million Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC) with opportunity to win funding up to £250,000. The winners of the first round were announced in April.
  • A £40 million Water Breakthrough Challenge – open for entries from 6 May until 3 June. Winners will be revealed in September 2021.

We expect different rounds of the competitions to run until 2025, but our goal is that the Innovation Fund’s impact will continue well beyond this. To contact Ofwat’s press office, please call 07458 126271

About Nesta and Nesta Challenges

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society. We’ve spent over 20 years working out the best ways to make change happen through research and experimenting, and we’ve applied that to our work in innovation policy, health, education, government innovation and the creative economy and arts.

Within Nesta, Nesta Challenges exists to design and run challenge prizes that help solve pressing problems that lack solutions. We shine a spotlight where it matters and incentivise people to solve these issues. We are independent supporters of change to help communities thrive and inspire the best placed, most diverse groups of people around the world to take action.

We support the boldest and bravest ideas to become real, and seed long term change to advance society and build a better future for everyone. We are part of the innovation foundation, Nesta. We are challengers. We are innovators. We are game changers.