Conference Season Again – Focusing on Emerging Pollutants and Water Market Reform, Mike Froom of Veolia Water Technologies Reviews

The Water Event at the RWM Exhibition in September heralded the start of the conference season quickly followed by the Drinking Water Quality conference and the European Wastewater in October and with the Water Industry Supplier, European Biosolids, Technology Innovation and Water 2016 all following in November we will all be much wiser on the key topics which seem to be treatment for emerging pollutants, Water Market Reform and Retail Competition – or will we?

On the subject of emerging pollutants, there seem to be an ever increasing number of technologies being promoted to provide effective treatment giving clients even more to consider in their search for that elusive technology that will remove, Phosphorous or Pesticides or Endocrines etc, at a low capital cost and with little or no chemical addition, so not an easy conundrum. To add to the confusion there is also still a lively discussion about catchment or end of pipe solutions, this became a bit of a debate at the Drinking Water Quality conference with no real consensus, other than the solution will have to be a combination of the two of course.

So onto the easy subject of Market Reform and Retail Competition – at the Water Event we started to see a declaration of intent from Water Companies and new entrants into the retail sector. My interest was what were the various companies’ strategies: to grow market share, protect an existing client base, sell add on services or is it just about customer satisfaction and providing a better service?

According to Ofwat nine water and sewage licences have been granted so far including Anglian Water; South Staffs Water; South West Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water Services; the new Joint Venture between Severn Trent Water and United Utilities. We have also seen Kelda rebrand as Three Sixty and Northumbrian launch their new brand Wave.

Moving from stand to stand there was a common message about providing customers with a better service, understanding their needs, bundling individual bills across territories and targeting those key commercial accounts. There were examples of companies who would be focused on growth without geographical boundaries and other companies that would just look to retain market share with slow incremental growth.

So the question is: will we really see any significant change, the truth is with just a couple of percent margin to chase between wholesale and retail water pricing, on it’s own it does not sound like much of a business case that would appeal to Alan Sugar. And even with the prospect of domestic retail competition how many individuals are set to change provider for an annual saving that would not buy a round of drinks in the local?

The focus for some entrants will be more disruptive for the water companies particularly where the entrant is looking to provide a broader or alternative service offering. The Alternative Water Company will aim to provide water to customers direct from boreholes on existing client properties. Certainly this strategy will dovetail with the Government’s water abstraction reform agenda to review borehole licences, particularly where licences are potentially at risk if they are held but not actively utilised.

We are also seeing industrial and commercial customers move to on site water and wastewater treatment where they have recognised the benefit of harvesting the resource potential of wastewater, whether it is for product recover or energy generation. As a result, we can expect some retail water supply companies to target customers where there is greatest potential to provide on-site water and wastewater services. Clearly this is not going to help existing water company business planning, with uncertain treatment design horizons and potential reductions in water supply and commercial or trade wastewater volumes and loading.

A number of these topics will be considered at the Marketforce Water 2016 conference on the 22-23 November in London where our CEO, Martyn Fisher will provide his insight into the market transformation. He will also make some observations from the industrial sectors, where technology and service offerings have already provided industrial and commercial clients with operational benefits.

One thing is certain, the mature complex municipal market that we currently operate within is not going to get any simpler.