Developing fresh approaches to managing future water challenges is critical to a cleaner, greener, better-value tomorrow

Often people think of new products when the word ‘innovation’ is mentioned, thus giving into the myth that innovation is only about ‘new goods’. But this is not necessarily so.

New products are a small part of the picture. Innovation is also about finding different ways of making, thinking and seeing. Examples of such game-changers are many. To name a few: the Xerox 914 copying machine (1959), Tesla Roadster electric car (2008) and Airbnb (2008).

Innovation is defined by Anurag Satpathy, Arjun Agrawal and Sanjay Mohapatra in Innovation Strategy For Enterprises In Emerging Economies (Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2015) as “exploiting new ideas leading to the creation of a new product, process or service”. Innovation is not just the invention of something new that is important, but actually ‘bringing it to market’, or putting it into practice and using it in a manner that leads to new products, services or systems that add value or improve quality.

Innovation has become a critical survival skill when looking at predictions for how we will live, work and communicate.

Successful innovation requires a certain level of prediction. In order to be successful, we not only have to respond to our current customer or organisational needs but also anticipate future trends and develop an idea, product, service, process or tools that allow us to meet future demand rapidly and effectively.

Innovation is therefore of the utmost importance for Europe’s future competitiveness in the water sector and has a spinoff function in regard to societal challenges.

It can’t just be seen as an appendix to research. There is a risk that many of the ideas and technologies developed will remain outside the market and will never be used for our welfare and growth. There are a lot of public and European projects at the early stage of the innovation cycle, i.e. research. The European water sector needs to benefit from these.

What role does EurEau play?

EurEau is engaged in different entities related to research and innovation. It is represented in the European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) on water, implemented by the European Commission to remove barriers and bottlenecks to innovation in the water sector, as a member of the High Level Steering Group. We are a member of the advisory Board of the Water Joint Programming Initiative (Water JPI). We are also part of the Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform’s (WssTP) General Assembly, which is focused on the technological aspects of innovation in water.

The EurEau Joint Working Group on Innovation

Innovation in water is essential and encompasses many areas. Water operators are constantly on the lookout for new ways to make the water they provide to consumers safe. We also look for new ways to treat the waste water we return to the environment. With water shortages becoming increasingly common in warmer areas, we have to find methods to provide water security. We also need new means of extracting nutrients and biomass from waste water and to use these products in our agriculture when possible.

Innovation in water is essential and wide-ranging. Water operators are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve. We are a member of the WssTP, we participate in certain research projects and platforms as a member of advisory groups and we relay information on research and innovation through our communications. However, we see that water utilities in nearly all Member States have difficulties in accessing innovation. Sometimes even the research provides technical solutions that do not respond to the water services needs.

This is usually as a result of policy rather than technology, as operators are regulated on their capacity to invest – in time and money – in innovation. Therefore, we need to focus our efforts on public policy (regulation and economics), management and partnerships.

The Joint Working Group is a platform for discussions on these issues and the organisation of the research and innovation work in EurEau. The fruits of these discussions will be fed into our stakeholders such as the WssTP, the EIPs on water and the Water JPI.

Innovation is of the utmost importance to face the water sector’s challenges. But good innovation has an added societal bonus; it also means a better environment for everyone and potentially better value as reflected in water bills.

Kari Elisabeth Fagernæsm, Chair of the EurEau Joint Working Group on Innovation

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