Utility Week

Utility Week 13th December 2013

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

Issue link: https://fhpublishing.uberflip.com/i/226329

Contents of this Issue


Page 7 of 33

Comment Chief executive's view Dr Jerry Bryan, chief executive, Albion Water Where's the innovation? Water companies like to claim they embrace innovation but their recently published business plans reveal a sector that for the most part is conservative and resistent to change. I t's over four years since the Cave Report challenged the water industry to be more innovative to meet the challenges it faced. Do the latest PR14 business plans provide any evidence that innovation is being taken seriously? At this summer's Sustainable Water conference, the audience readily agreed there was a need for significant innovation if the water sector was to address the huge challenges of climate and demographic change in a manner that was both affordable and sustainable. There was far less agreement about when we might see evidence of significant innovation, with only a handful of delegates confident that there would be evidence within the current price review process (PR14). It was also unclear whether companies might be prepared to innovate in areas that were well outside their comfort zones, rather than sticking to the low-risk route of incrementally improving processes and technologies which were already familiar. This concept of radical versus incremental innovation is one that challenges us all and it may well benefit from the following illustration. Mogden sewage treatment works, in west London, was originally the headquarters of the West Middlesex Main Drainage Board. In what was formerly the boardroom at the works was a framed ten shilling note, with an explanation that this was the stake in a wager between the designer, Sir William Halcrow, and the board's chief engineer. HalCompany Length of Specific document case reviewed studies Scottish Water 50 10 Anglian64 7 Wessex82 5 Yorkshire32 6 South West 102 0 Severn Trent 70 0 Welsh 99 0 Northumbrian 22 0 Southern 60 0 Thames 100 0 United Utilities 10 0 6 | 13th - 19th December 2013 | UTILITY WEEK crow had bet that the works would be com- hard done by in what follows and is willpletely powered by energy captured from the ing to share evidence of its commitment to new anaerobic digestion process. He won his innovation. bet. The date? 1937. Fast forward 76 years The results of this, admittedly crude, and we see from Thames Water's latest pub- analysis suggests we have no more than four lished summary that it identifies "generating companies, Scottish Water, Anglian, Wessex more renewable energy from sewage sludge" and Yorkshire, prepared to show what steps as one of two examples of innovation in its they are taking to change their cultures to business plan. The less charitable among ones that foster greater innovation. Of these us might conclude that this is not so much four, I have studied Scottish Water in some innovation as the incredibly slow take-up of detail and can confirm that there is a genua technology that has been proven for over ine willingness to challenge the organisation three-quarters of a century. and its delivery partners to be more innovaThose same critical observtive, and a confidence that enables ers might also note that anaeroit to expose that progress to indebic digestion concerns itself only pendent scrutiny. with the residues of a century-old This is only the start of the joursewage treatment process (actiney and some of the challenges vated sludge), which expends large faced are likely to take all those amounts of energy to turn almost involved into areas that are well 50 per cent of the potential fuel outside their personal or corpovalue of sewage directly to CO2. Is rate comfort zones, including the it not the case that our continuing problems of rural water supply reliance on such an ancient and "We need to and sanitation, where convenunsustainable process provides move out of tional solutions are unsustainably compelling evidence of the need our comfort expensive. to problems of this for radical innovation in the water Solutions zones" industry? nature are likely to be radical So how are water companies but, if successful, may prove to responding to the challenge of be world beaters. With the risk of innovation? Now that the companies' busi- truly radical innovation comes the potential ness plans have been submitted to Ofwat, for great reward. Wics has recognised the we can see the public versions and perhaps risk element and I understand that its pricget an understanding of the role played by ing determination will include mechanisms innovation in those plans. Before going fur- that encourage greater innovation. Ofwat ther, I should point out that the published is also talking in similar terms. What then detail varies considerably from company to of the companies' appetite for innovation? company, and so the analysis that follows My analysis suggests that only a minority will lack the rigour necessary to be truly of companies are really seeking to embrace reliable. In the time available, I have also innovation and I suggest that, even for these, limited myself to looking at the larger water the journey has only just started. For the othand sewerage companies, including Scottish ers, I have not been able to find convincing Water. What these findings will do, I hope, evidence of the cultural changes that innovais create a debate that helps prevent innova- tion requires. Perhaps that is a failure of my tion being dismissed as something for the analysis. If so, I look forward to receiving the indeterminate future. If we are to succeed evidence that will allow us to celebrate the we must start changing today if we are not true champions of water innovation and look to leave our children with even bigger prob- forward to a time when UK water companies lems. I will be more than happy to produce a can take their places as leaders in the interretraction if any company feels unjustifiably national water market.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Utility Week - Utility Week 13th December 2013