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Generating and adopting new ideas is an intrinsic part of our culture

Innovation Lab draws new ideas from around the globe

Sniffer dog

Our groundbreaking Innovation Lab provides a platform for us to engage with suppliers around the world, many of whom have never worked with us before.

We advertised the Lab in the spring of 2017 and received applications from 80 suppliers, which we narrowed down to a shortlist of 22, including 14 start-up companies. They were then invited to a pitch day in December 2017, where seven successful applicants were selected.

Over a 10-week programme, these seven partners co-locate with us and are mentored by our senior business leaders, with access to test, improve and demonstrate their product or service in live customer environments, enabling rapid prototyping of breakthrough technologies before implementation on a larger scale.

CEO Challenge helps embed an innovation mindset

As well as engaging with innovators from around the world, we foster a culture of innovation from within our business. Our annual CEO Challenge tasks our graduates with finding practical and innovative solutions to real business problems, encouraging innovation from future thought-leaders.

Process innovations deliver significant efficiencies

Nereda is a wastewater treatment process that delivers significantly lower energy and chemical costs, and the ability to treat larger volumes within a smaller footprint. We have contracted our fourth installation of Nereda, in Blackburn, which will be the largest in Europe once completed.

Drone technology improves access and site safety

Many of our sites and assets have restricted access, such as valve towers and outfalls, which makes inspection more difficult. The use of drones gives a variety of benefits, in terms of time-saving covering large areas, improved access, and reduction of health and safety risks.

Image analytics enables proactive repairs

We use satellite data processed through advanced image analytics to detect millimetre ground movements that may indicate the risk of potential sewer collapses. The benefits of proactive repair before a sewer collapse are significant in terms of cost and customer disruption.

Eye in the sky, nose on the ground

Tackling leakage is a real priority for us and we're always looking for new and innovative ways to do the job more effectively. The North West of England is a notoriously wet region, and sorting the leaks from the puddles, especially out in the fields, can be real challenge. We have trialled a new leak detection method that is showing great results.

We use innovative satellite technology (our 'eye in the sky'), which was originally developed to detect water under the surface of other planets, to spot areas of potential water mains leakage by using unique algorithms to detect a spectral 'signature' typical to treated drinking water.

Once we have identified an area, we send in our 'nose on the ground' to sniff out the precise location of a leak. Snipe, the UK's first leak detection sniffer dog, was a stray rescued in Ireland who has since gone through a rigorous training programme with ex-military dog trainers to help him learn how to use his sensitive nose to locate the tiniest traces of chlorine used to disinfect water supplies.

This is particularly useful in rural areas where the water does not always show on the surface, and helps us to minimise customer disruption since Snipe can pinpoint the location of a leak with far greater accuracy, therefore avoiding the need to dig up large areas of countryside to locate the source of the issue.