Climate change, evolving customer demands and new digital technology. These are factors that influence a wide range of industries, but they spell dramatically changing times for the water sector. Here, we take a look at some of the major themes and challenges that the UK’s water companies must face head on in 2021 and beyond.
From smart phones to smart cities, it seems the world is getting smarter, and water companies will need to do likewise. Smart network solutions are likely to be a major theme over the coming year or two. These serve to enhance the efficiency and reliability of water infrastructure and distribution through real-time collection and analysis of data using IoT devices throughout the network. Smart networks reduce losses while increasing efficiency, leading to lower costs and happier consumers.
Speaking of consumers, they need to be at the heart of everything a successful business does. Water companies can expect to be working hand in hand with their end users far more than they used to in the months and years ahead. Generation Z is becoming the key consumer demographic, and this is a cohort that demands experiences, not products. In the new consumer-led world, personalisation is key. Water companies will need to offer bespoke solutions. Get it right, and a whole new type of bond between supplier and customer will be fostered.
Weathering the weather
Climate change manifests itself in various ways, but most of them have some connection with water. Rising sea levels, coastal erosion and infrastructure pushed to the limit due to flooding in spring and droughts in summer are just a few of the challenges that lie ahead. By considering them now, water companies can stay ahead of the curve, preparing for challenges ahead as opposed to literally putting up flood defences against a rising tide.
London’s drainage system dates back to Victorian times. When it was installed, it was the best in the world and it easily met the needs of London’s 800,000 residents. The fact that it is still coping 100 years later when the city’s population stands at five million tells its own story, but the infrastructure is on its knees. It’s the same story up and down the country, and Ofwat has confirmed a £51 billion investment programme over the next five years. £13 billion of this will be spent on infrastructure, and allocating these funds wisely will be crucial to build on the great work carried out by the Victorians and future-proof the network for another century.
Developing a circular economy
We all learned about the water cycle in our school days. Expect those long-ago geography lessons to come home to roost over the coming months as water companies put more time, investment and research into making better use of waste water to create a circular economy. Transitioning from a linear model to a circular one is as much about mindset as anything and will demand innovation in strategic thinking as well as in technology.