Transnational cooperation: a key enabler for water management in NWE

With a growing demand on water resources innovative technology can play an important role in creating a space for using water resources more efficiently and effectively, reducing waste, lowering energy usage and recovering useful materials. In this interview, Ruth McNeil from Scottish Water Horizons Limited (UK) and Lead Partner of the Water Test Network (WTN), presents her view on innovation in the water sector and how the project supports SMEs in testing, demonstrating and developing new products for the industry.

What are the current main challenges and barriers for the water sector in NWE?

There is still a lack of aligned vision across the water sector, both across the sector and across regions. This makes it difficult for a joined-up, collaborative approach to water sector challenges. It also means that companies who are bringing innovations to the water sector have to ‘prove’ their innovations with each water company which requires multiple tests in different circumstances. This takes time and money for the companies. An aligned vision and closer collaboration between water companies could lead to one ‘proof’ of the innovation for multiple companies through one collaborative test rather than requiring a company test with every water company.

The water sector remains risk averse in general meaning it remains difficult to break into the market and it can take a long time for technologies to become commercial. There is a need for a cultural shift in the water sector to encourage uptake of new technologies/ways of working. Providing access to testing facilities to allow testing of new technologies in a real setting can help to address concerns water companies have about taking on new technologies.

What's the added value of cooperating with partners from other regions in North-West Europe?

Cooperation between partners has allowed knowledge sharing around testing facilities, where new facilities have visited and learnt from the experience of those testing facilities that have been established for a few years.

Additionally, technologies have been trialled transnationally. By this I mean that technologies from one region of NWE have been tested in other regions of NWE. Partners cooperate to ensure SMEs can access the testing facilities best suited to their needs and, where this requires movement across regions, this is facilitated by the partnership. In this way SMEs can trial technologies in the best-fit facility for them and access other markets in other regions.



What kind of support does the project voucher scheme offer and what's the importance of this action to SMEs in the area? Could you name a specific project that you particularly liked or that achieved promising results?

The Innovation Support Voucher scheme provides SMEs with access to 14 testing facilities across NWE for SMEs to test their innovations. SME’s can access up to €50,000 of support via either access to a testing facility (this could consist of a few days at a lab facility up to several weeks in an operational water/wastewater treatment facility) and/or support in validation or verification of their product to assist with market entry. Funding and access to testing facilities is essential to SMEs in order to improve their technology readiness levels (TRL) and therefore gain entry to the market. Through providing access to these facilities, and the funding to undertake the testing, it is hoped that SMEs can speed up market entry for new innovations for the water sector.

An example of the added value of the Water Test Network (WTN) is the benefits highlighted by one of the SMEs which has trialled their technology through the voucher scheme:

“The Water Test Network provides two major benefits: Firstly, a safe and controlled environment in which performance can be tested in a variety of configurations at minimal disruption. This is coupled with onsite physical presence to conduct routine tasks and analysis allowing successful long-term testing without constant site attendance, improving the reliability and creditability of the testing. Secondly, with other trials ongoing and a continuous engagement programme by WTN with other utilities and industry actors, this gives extensive exposure of the technology with opportunities to undertake tours, presentations and potential collaborations with other technology providers and customers. The onsite facilities make for an excellent marketing platform.”

Microvi Uk Limited

The above demonstrates the benefits of the WTN testing facilities to the SMEs but also an added benefit of these facilities and the WTN: the enabling of collaboration between SMEs.

Could you explain the Water Regulation Roadmap online tool and why it was needed?

The water sector is a complex environment and each region has different regulations which need to be considered by SMEs when they are looking to develop an innovation which is for the use of the water sector. This can be difficult for SMEs to navigate.

The purpose of the Regulatory Roadmap is to guide SMEs to the respected authorities on water regulations, specifications and guidance within North West Europe. The Roadmap is a tool for SMEs to use as a means of speeding up the process of investigating regulations, specifications and guidance in North West Europe before, during and after entering the Water Test Network process, or in standalone projects.

What is the most promising outcome you expect to achieve at the end of the project?

At the end of the project the most promising outcome would be that there is a plan for the network to continue in a sustainable manner. There would be continued collaboration among partners and transnational support offered to SMEs to continue to encourage innovation in the water sector.

An added bonus would be that the project has been able to consider expanding the network to new partners and possibly even into new sectors where technologies could be brought from these new sectors into the water sector.

In the future, what contribution do you think Water Test Network will havein the optmisation of resources use in NWE?

With a growing demand on water resources innovative technology can play an important role in creating a space for using water resources more efficiently and effectively, reducing waste, lowering energy usage and recovering useful materials.

The Water Test Network fosters an innovation environment. We support SMEs to address sector challenges and accelerate time for innovations to get to market by making it easier to test and verify innovations to overcome the reluctance over ‘unproven’ technologies. The Water Test Network will hopefully continue to foster such an environment in the future and will continue to provide this type of support to SMEs so they can help us all optimise the water resources we use in NWE.

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