The challenges in the water sector are profound – and retail market opening offers an opportunity to address them, says Nicci Russell, managing director of Waterwise.

There are more of us now, customers are expecting better engagement with their water companies and paying bills is a real struggle for many businesses and people. Combined with a changing climate, we all need to use water more efficiently, so the water we do have goes further – for people, the environment and the economy. We can’t create new water! And these challenges are already biting – it’s not just a long-term issue. It’s been a dry winter for large parts of England, which are looking seriously at their recharge in time for summer use.

Water efficiency is a key service that business customers are asking of new water retail companies. As Coca Cola made clear at a recent water event, they see it as a key business risk. But more immediately, it will help reduce their water – and energy – bills. Retail competition also provides great space for innovation in technologies and products – to develop better relationships with customers and drive resilience.

Waterwise has been driving the policy agenda on this open door from customers, through the Water Efficiency Strategy for the UK (due to be published soon), through discussions with retailers themselves and providing ideas to Ofwat on monitoring the retail market and to government on their wider policy and strategy for water.

For retailers, we are developing commercial water efficiency training to improve skills in retailers, supply chains and customers, and matchmaking them with innovative products. We are hosting the International Water Association Efficient 2017 Conference in Bath – a key opportunity for retailers to network on international innovations. And we are pushing the agenda for retailers and businesses through events such as water saving week (#watersavingweek).

So, we know customers want water efficiency – but are retailers providing it?

We have undertaken an initial assessment of retail water companies’ service offerings on water efficiency (see graph). Out of 20 company websites we found that the majority are offering smart billing and metering (75 per cent), water audits and leak detection (65 per cent) and some online tools (50 per cent). However, fewer companies are offering behaviour change/engagement, development of water strategies, and alternative sources of water.

Source: Waterwise

Over the next year we will work with Ofwat, CCWater and the Blueprint for Water to monitor progress in delivering water efficiency services. We’d like to work with retailers to develop evidence and advice on customer engagement and behaviour change in addition to hard technologies, which may have greater impacts for SMEs and hard to reach customers.

Customers want water efficiency. Government and Ofwat have always cited it as one of the key benefits from retail market opening; it’s happened in Scotland – and it’s a key reason for customers to switch, alongside single bills and improved customer service. And Waterwise is at the heart of delivering on this business opportunity – for retailers and their current and future customers – driving the policy debate as well as delivery and innovation.

This column originally appeared in Water.Retail. Subscribe here

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