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 THE UK Water and sewerage industry is often berated for its lack of innovation:     There's a growing chorus of voices calling for more R & D, knowledge transfer and better, creative approaches to developing new technologies.  

So what's holding it back? The answer:  a short-term focus on capital expenditure built-in to our regulatory regime, together with a lack of longer-term payback rewards for water companies.  Add to that a general risk-averse culture, lack of industry skills....  It's all beginning to sound very familiar.

But I want to ask:  Are we really fighting a losing battle – or should we practice what we preach and see innovation with fresh eyes?

 Innovation is not the same thing as invention.   Our industry doesn't so much need a leap-frogging race for new technologies.  It needs open minds and international horizons. 

Hydro's culture is founded on innovation, both through new product development and through the successful introduction of new technologies to the UK from overseas.  Take the UK's growing take-up of Zickert sludge scraping technology or consider the Hi-Ox® Ultra-Fine Bubble Aeration system.  Each are proven, operating technologies.  To be rewarded with the efficiencies they deliver, water companies need only a willingness to trial the unconventional - not blue-sky thinking. 

But as suppliers we also see how sometimes an asset owner's aspirations for energy-efficiency and better whole-life costs can be at odds with the contractor's imperative to achieve the lowest up-front capital price.   Rethinking procurement procedures, so that contractors can be rewarded for delivering long-term power reductions, even where the initial capex is greater – that would be true innovation. 

It's not all about new equipment.  Hydro is seeing innovation at first hand in the form of forward-thinking preventative maintenance programmes.  By taking out spares and service agreements to protect specific items of plant, some Hydro customers have achieved significant cost-savings.  We believe more operators could do the same. Such agreements have the potential to improve operating efficiency, reduce energy usage and extend the life of important assets.   

In the 21st century, innovation and sustainability are two sides of the same coin.  Privatisation has delivered much-needed investment in our infrastructure, but often at the expense of power usage and carbon footprint.   In future, we must be focused on the challenges of climate change, energy use and carbon footprint.  To do so will require innovation, not just in new technology, but also in the processes by which we purchase, operate and maintain our assets.

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