You can just picture the headline: “Water – an untapped industry.” But it is true. As industry leaders gathered in Edinburgh last week for the 15th World Water Congress, there was a real sense of purpose. Hardly surprising given opportunities in the global water market sectors amount to more than £32 billion, according to the UK Water Research and Innovation Partnership (UKWRIP).
Coinciding with the congress, Scottish Water International announced it had won a contract to provide advice and support to SA Water, a utilities firm owned by the government of South Australia. It is the latest win for Scottish Water’s international subsidiary, which has exported more than £2 million of services to global clients in the past year.
The deal is a timely demonstration of how Scotland can export its national water expertise. After all, the Scottish and wider UK water industry has a strong global reputation. But it is still some way from transferring that expertise into commercial gain.
The UK water sector has historically lacked an aligned vision and failed to grasp how high-quality research can be commercialised. It has not supported the transition from strong academic research to marketable products, or given early-stage technology companies the commercial know-how to think about products and markets on a global scale. A lack of centralised resources for testing and validating new products has hampered innovation.
This is why Scotland’s Hydro Nation Strategy is so vital to the country’s economic prosperity. Launched in 2012, it is designed to deliver economic growth for Scotland through maximising the economic benefits of the country’s water resources by reducing energy use and improving efficiency.
A key component of this strategy is the Hydro Nation Water Innovation Service, announced by Derek Mackay, minister for transport and islands, at the congress. It is believed to be a world first for the water sector, bringing together industry, academia and government.
Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise have appointed global infrastructure services firm Aecom, and its partners WRc and UK Water, to deliver the service on behalf of the Scottish Government. The three-year programme aims to increase innovation, turning Scotland’s water expertise into market opportunities.
Aecom, which employs nearly 800 people in Scotland, and its partners will principally work with Scottish environmental technology SMEs in the water and waste water sector, to help turn near-market research into tangible opportunities.
Crucially, the service will strive to increase international trade by bringing more water technology products to market and encouraging international collaboration. Scotland has to think about market opportunities in a global context. This is where Aecom’s global reach should help give companies in Scotland easier access to the international water market.
UKWRIP estimates the UK’s share of the global market in water technology is just 3 per cent. It believes this could increase to at least 10 per cent, providing 71,000 jobs and involving around 960 SMEs. The water technologies industry alone could be worth around £900m per annum for Scotland.
The opportunities are there for the taking. Thinking globally will unlock commercial opportunities in the water industry and create jobs. Only by looking outwards will Scotland achieve its ambition to be the world’s first Hydro Nation.
• Marc Barone is UK & Ireland managing director for water at Aecom