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About United Utilities

United Utilities is one of the largest water/wastewater companies in the monopolistic and regulated UK water sector. They have 88 water treatment works and 569 wastewater treatment works spanning the North West of England, serving seven million customers, over three million homes, and 200,000 businesses. United Utilities gathers water from a range of sources, predominantly from their reservoirs in the Pennines and the Lake District. 

Recognizing that quality control starts right at the point of collection, United Utilities keeps catchment land surrounding their reservoirs as clean and sustainable as they can. This helps with the water quality for customers and makes a huge difference to the environment. United Utilities helps protect over 1,300km of coastline and around 7,000km of rivers flowing across the region.

Approach to Sustainability

Innovation within United Utilities is an essential part of their business. It’s about connecting problems and opportunities to create solutions in line with objectives. All their work to innovate is strongly linked to company strategy and the objective to grow by looking at cutting-edge technologies and enhancing processes. They do this to provide a great service to customers by making their experience better, faster, cheaper and ensuring customers are at the heart of everything they do.

United Utilities cares about innovation and has a track record of discovering new ideas from suppliers around the world, trialing and tailoring their original idea – and adopting where we can. 

Challenge Details

#1 Reducing the Environmental Impact of Combined Sewer Overflows

Sewer overflows are an important part of the current sewerage network. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs), act as a pressure relief valve when there is too much rainfall, allowing rain water, mixed with sewage, to rise inside the sewer, and eventually enter a separate pipe that flows into a river or the sea. 

Sewers operate this way to help prevent the flooding of streets, homes, and businesses. When we do need to use them, they can sometimes affect river and bathing water quality, albeit temporarily.

This Challenge seeks innovative solutions to reduce the environmental impact of CSOs.

Challenge Details

#2 Innovative Solutions to Improve Water Quality

Water quality is a top priority for United Utilities and for their customers. This includes taste, smell, and consistency. This Challenge seeks natural/low chemical and low energy solutions to enhance water treatment. 

United Utilities  are keen to explore low cost solutions which could help them further their understanding of areas such as water quality (nutrients, ammonia, turbidity), flood monitoring (sewers, river, surface water), water flow monitoring (source to sea) and monitoring of habitat type and condition.

They are also keen to explore low chemical and low energy treatment processes.

Desired Outcomes

The Reducing the Environmental Impact of CSOs Challenge is focused on management, monitoring, and alternatives for combined sewer overflows (CSOs). United Utilities seeks innovations that could be deployed to accelerate and improve performance, such as:

  1. How could we avoid the use of CSOs altogether?
  2. What could we do to improve the quality of what is discharged?
  3. How can we monitor and measure what is discharged accurately and remotely?

The Innovative Solutions to Improve Water Quality Challenge seeks Net Zero solutions that are low chemical, low energy, and low cost. Solutions must be connected and support United Utilities systems thinking strategy.

Challenge Goals

For these Challenges, success is likely to be an agreed and funded trial – ideally, an idea that can be adopted quickly with a long term agreement and purchase orders.

Reducing the Environmental Impact of CSOs Challenge goals:

  • No unplanned CSO discharges
  • No sewage discharges at all from CSOs

Innovative Solutions to Improve Water Quality Challenge goals:

  • Use of natural or low chemical solutions to improve taste, smell, and consistency of water quality


United Utilities is regulated in the UK. Any solution has to meet relevant standards.

United Utilities has invested in the creation of a new analytics platform to help with their analysis of data and how they report spill and flow data. It is built in such a way that in the future, they will be able to take data from third parties, such as data on river water quality, to enable more advanced analysis.

Applicants must:

  • Be a Canadian owned company or have primary operations in Canada
  • Understand and be able to communicate the readiness level of your technology (TRL)

Challenge Schedule

March 7, 2022

Submission Window Opens

March 16, 2022

Info Webinar

April 29, 2022

Submission Window Closes

May 11-25, 2022

Evaluation Period

June 2022

Finalist Pitch Webinar

July 1, 2022

Winner Announced

Missed the Webinar?

We held an information webinar on March 16. For more information on the challenge, including in-depth Q&A, watch it here.

Reducing the Environmental Impact of CSOs Challenge:

Evaluation & Eligibility Criteria

Effectiveness of Proposed Solution

Must be a Retrofit / Additional Fit

Not replace existing assets

Cost to Deploy Must be Low Given the Number of Assets (2000+)

Any Digital Solutions Should be Able to Integrate with Different Digital Platforms

To be Able to Trial, Solutions Must be Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 7+

The Innovative Solutions to Improve Water Quality Challenge:

Evaluation & Eligibility Criteria

Must be Net Zero

Low chemical, Low Energy, and Low-Cost Solution

To be Able to Trial, Solutions Must be Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 7+

Sustainable Development Goals

The SDG Connect Challenge Service  supports achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs addressed by these Challenges are:

  • Industry, Innovation and infrastructure (SDG9)
  • Sustainable cities (SDG11)
  • Climate change (SDG13)

Foresight Canada is working with the Trade Commissioner Service of Canada in the United Kingdom to deliver this SDG Connect Challenge. Through this Challenge, Canadian cleantech solutions and technology providers are connected with a key local company in the UK, United Utilities, to help address a major sustainability challenge.

This SDG Connect Challenge is in collaboration with Export Development Canada