Water industry stuck in Victorian era

by Stephen Jones. Published Tue 24 Mar 2009 13:02, Last updated: 2011-04-06

PM's unit demands more work to minimise environmental impact.

The water industry needs to invest more in new technology and innovative solutions to meet the challenges of the 21st century, according to a new independent report published today.

The Council for Science and Technology (CST), the Prime Minister's top-level science advisory body, found that investment in Research and Development is low for the sector generally, whilst performance varies considerably between companies when it comes to investing in technology and applying innovative solutions.

Despite being an industry with a capital investment of £3 billion per year current R&D expenditure is just £18 million per year - about 0.5 per cent of their capital investment.

The study 'Improving innovation in the water industry: 21st century challenges and opportunities' found that:

* The regulatory regime provides insufficient rewards for innovative solutions
* Not enough attention is being given to long term technology planning within the water sector in responding to its environmental impact - for instance its energy use and carbon footprint
* Water companies have difficulties recruiting highly skilled people.

Project Leader Professor Michael Sterling said: "Much of our water infrastructure is the product of engineering innovations from Victorian times. This is not a sustainable position for the UK to be in.

"The water companies have made progress over the last fifteen years becoming more efficient and meeting increasingly stringent regulatory standards. However, the industry needs to do more if it is to be world class and supply the nation's water needs in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way".

The report calls on water companies to work more with universities and research organisations when it comes to R&D to access leading edge technologies and expertise. It also cites the fact that Government currently provides funding for R&D to energy companies through bodies such as the Energy Technologies Institute and the Carbon Trust - and proposes that they should do the same for the water sector.

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