Innovation in Water

3 December 2015 - // Features
Louise Elliott
Strategy & Business Growth Director, WSP, UK

The water industry has a unique influence and impact on the sustainability of the environment. With ever increasing demands to remain efficient and compliant, water companies must look to new and innovative approaches.

Bringing New Technology to Market

Isle Utilities (Isle) is an independent technology and innovation consultancy, with a strong track record in identifying novel and often cutting-edge technologies and solutions for the water and built environment sectors, and accelerating their uptake in line with the needs of the market. We do this by engaging directly with water utility end users through our bespoke forum for collaboration – the Technology Approval Group (TAG). The TAG model, first launched in the UK in 2005, has now been established in different geographical regions including; wider Europe, North America, Brazil, Philippines, Singapore, Middle East and Australia, with several other new territories on the horizon.

Innovation, particularly when linked with sustainability and increased cost efficiency, is a hot topic across many business sectors. This is no different for the water industry, with a plethora of water innovation reports commissioned by various government bodies and businesses to examine how innovative the sector is and whether it is well placed to meet the challenges ahead of it. Studies have shown that innovation creates economic growth, a powerful driver not only for the water companies but also for their customers and the supply chain.

Sedimentation basin in water treatment plant. Photo: Shutterstock

Within Isle, all our services revolve around the strategic implementation of emerging technology and innovation. As technology companies develop and grow, they often find themselves cash constrained and in need of investment, Isle also facilitates introductions to appropriate funding bodies and external investors, as well as potential delivery partners. This stakeholder engagement process between technology companies, end-users, delivery partners and investors has been instrumental to the successful uptake and commercialisation of numerous technologies from around the world. We also facilitate many collaborative projects, through the trialling and assessments of emerging technologies in the market.

Isle’s logo. Source: Isle Utilities

Isle is made up of in-house technical teams of engineers and scientists alongside market and commercial experts. We maintain a completely unbiased approach to our research activities and have successfully worked with a diverse range of organisations including the public sector, charities, product suppliers and large multinationals. Our teams are located in the UK, USA, Australia and the Netherlands, further strengthening our capabilities as we are able to offer our clients a global perspective by tapping into this network as required.

Innovation in Action –  Technology Approval Group

Water utilities require innovative technologies to meet regulatory, environmental, financial, technical, and growth targets.  However, with the road between R&D and commercialisation being long and with significant roadblocks, most technologies developed never make it to the commercial world due to their inability to make this crossover. The reasons for this include businesses and investors failing to understand the true market potential of a given technology, businesses like water companies not having the means to invest directly in the development of innovative products and services and technology companies (typically start-ups and SMEs with limited financial and personnel resources) finding it a difficult and time consuming process to engage directly with the relevant end-users they have developed solutions for.

innovation creates economic growth, a powerful driver not only for the water companies but also for their customers and the supply chain

Isle identified an opportunity to develop an end user innovation forum connecting receptive innovation managers from water utilities (TAG members) with novel emerging technologies, in an easily accessible network. The approach needed to incentivise technology companies to go through a stringent due diligence process with the prize of trials, demonstration or commercial sales.  The TAG platform needed to be funded by the end users who would ultimately gain benefits from the technologies once deployed. The final task was to identify financial investors who could support the growth projections of the emerging technology companies once the water utilities had highlighted market applications.

Therefore through TAG, Isle sought to overcome the challenges above by addressing the three key factors that play a role in the successful development and commercialisation of innovative products and solutions:

  • Ensuring that innovation and development is needs driven – the solutions  presented at TAG are selected because they meet pre-identified needs within the industry;
  • Accelerating deployment of novel innovative solutions, thereby ensuring that the benefits of each new innovation can be rapidly realised by the industry and that the supply chain remains committed to innovation;
  • Attracting external investment into the industry by de-risking potential investments through the demonstrable engagement of end-users.

So, while investment can be sourced externally to the water industry, the role of the water companies as end-users of technology is clear:  demonstrable customer engagement not only ensures that innovation is needs-driven, but importantly it creates a positive environment to attract external investment.  It is this engagement that has heralded TAG such a success – over the last ten years the role of TAG has become pivotal in engaging with the water companies’ current and potential supply chain.  The innovations that have been showcased, and subsequently adopted, have delivered direct benefits not only to the industry, but also to the technology companies and the venture capital community.

Tag Management System. Figure: Revolve Media


Isle’s experience through the delivery of TAG has afforded expansion into other technology-led activities, including Innovate@IWS, an exciting showcase of novel solutions for the water industry in the MENA Region.

Water is a top priority for R&D programmes in the UAE.

Bruce Ferguson, Professor of Masdar Institute for Technology

Water innovation is becoming a top priority for leading utilities within the UAE and they are driving the way in becoming one of the world’s leading water hubs. For the last two years Isle have delivered the Innovate@IWS event in Abu Dhabi which has proven to be a successful platform for developers of technological solutions that can address the challenges of the region to meet and engage with end users and investors.

As Patrick Decker, CEO of Xylem said during 2015 conference: “The UAE has become one of the leading innovation hubs for water in the world, alongside Singapore.”

At the 2015 International Water Summit (IWS), 16 finalists were selected in three water categories – municipal, industrial and real estate. At the conference, company representatives were brought before a panel of judges representing high-level expertise in water technology across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, in a “Dragon’s Den” or “Shark Tank”-style competition to determine the most promising technologies for enhancing water security in arid regions. 

The winning technologies demonstrated excellence in three key areas: uniqueness, business potential, and long-term vision. The winners below received dedicated meetings with potential stakeholders from the investment, end-user, and partner communities:

  • Municipal: Trevi Systems, a California-based desalination company, developed a forward-osmosis desalination process for use in a wide range of applications, from saltwater to brackish water, as well as industrial wastewater with a proprietary draw solution.
  • Industrial: French company BGH took top honors for its original Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) technology, which provides an effective treatment of high Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) waters, making it ideal for treating industrial wastewater in the hydrocarbons, mining, and nuclear sectors.
  • Real Estate: In water for real estate, the winner is THERMOWATT Energy and Building Ltd., a company based in Hungary, won for its heat-pump technology that uses energy residing in wastewater to cool and heat larger buildings.

Professor Bruce Ferguson of Masdar Institute, who was also one of the distinguished judges at the event stated: “Water is a top priority for R&D programmes in the UAE.” Building on the success of last year, the 2016 Innovate@IWS will be just as exciting with a broad spectrum of water technologies having applied for a place on the stage.

Ferdaws, Iran, July 2013, a water reservoir close to Kuh Qale. These reservoir are called Haws Anbar by the locals. July 20, 2013.Ferdaws, South Khurasan, Iran. Photo: Iranah / Shutterstock
Louise Elliott
Strategy & Business Growth Director, WSP, UK

Featured in

Join Planet

We strive to communicate sustainability for a better world for the next generations.

Support us by becoming a member of REVOLVE Planet today.

Become a Member