Arup Thoughts: Innovation in the water sector

New ways of thinking, processes, and innovative technologies are needed to deliver the outcomes required from infrastructure systems.

By Martin Shouler, Arup, UK December 29, 2016

Worldwide, there is a growing understanding of the need to deliver smarter, cheaper, more resilient, and environmentally sensitive water and wastewater systems. Key drivers include population growth, urbanization, and competing demand from municipal, agriculture, and industrial uses. There is a mounting consensus that solutions should be more innovative in delivering the outcomes required from infrastructure systems. Therefore, new ways of thinking, processes, as well as innovative technologies are needed to meet these requirements.

Innovation is not only a term that can be applied to technology. The framework of the water sector should be considered including receptiveness to new ideas, appetite for risk, the processes, and the creativity of the human capital. The best technology can fail to be implemented if there’s unwillingness to change.

However, change is not easy. This typically applies to technology, but can equally apply to the implementation of new practices and processes.

Three linked elements of innovation should be considered to enhance the chance of success:

  1. The innovative idea or solution
  2. The need or future requirement that it might meet
  3. The capital-both human (knowledge and expertise) and financial.

If one considers the above, all three elements need to be in place to deploy and commercialize the novel idea or solution. Often, innovation takes place without the other two supporting components. However, as the idea develops, it needs to be supported by a clear understanding of the need and its associated benefits, as well as commercial and professional support. In the case of innovative water technology, the market will need confidence in its performance.

In the highly regulated water sector, there are many obstacles to navigate, from taking innovation through to implementation and commercialization. Early insight into what innovations will ultimately be successful and how they can be commercialized is critical. Without the appropriate support, many ideas will fail in the valley of death.

An example of successfully bringing these elements together is the U.K. company Syrinix. The company was spun out of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in 2004. While at UEA, Dr. Paul Linford developed and used his knowledge of electronic signal processing to meet a recognized need for water utilities to manage burst pipes and leaks in their underground networks. Bringing together capital, such as finance and expertise in the water sector, Syrinix has gone on to develop a suite of products and services and now has international clients.

Working in partnership can help accelerate innovation in the water sector, thereby helping industry and society through the provision of new thinking, processes, and products.

Martin Shouler is the global skills leader for environmental services engineering at Arup. This article originally appeared on Arup Thought. Arup is a CFE Media content partner.