Innovation in Infrastructure - Industry Highlights

2020 was no doubt one of the most challenging years in recent history. The shock of the pandemic overshadowed issues around the environment and economy. Every part of society had to overcome new challenges. This proved that the world can come together in times of crisis, which lead to progress like never before. It's this setting which makes 2021 such an exciting time for innovation. In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the most innovative industries in the UK right now. Then, we'll highlight some examples of what makes these industries so innovative. 


The water industry is entering a new price control period, which means Ofwat are changing the way they regulate the networks. This is particularly exciting because it will see £200m investment in innovation grants available to the water sector. This is something the UK hasn’t yet seen before.

To go with this, the water networks have come together in devising a Water Innovation 2050 strategy. This is an important milestone for the water networks. It proves that their organisations are working together towards common objectives. We expect this will be a chance to showcase some incredible innovation. We also foresee it sharing the knowledge gained.

Key highlights of innovation in the water sector include:

  • Leak Detection - water leakages are one of the biggest problems facing water networks in the UK. As a result, ambitious targets have been set to reduce leakages by 15%. More information can be found in this article from the Water Industry Journal.
  • Digital Transformation - The water sector globally has seen an increase in the use of AI sensors and machine learning. This is partly due to labour shortages, resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. This a key example of innovation in response to a crisis having wider, long term benefits. To find out more, read this article by Frost and Sullivan.
  • Net Zero - a roadmap has been drawn up that brings the UK water sector to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. For details, take a look at Water UK’s 2030 Route Map.


The UK gas networks are also entering a new price control period (RiiO-2). This is particularly exciting, as it brings with it new working practices that are bound to bring important innovation to life. Coupled with this, is a new regulatory framework. The framework pushes the importance of carbon reducing projects (net-zero). It also describes other other overarching objectives for the UK gas networks. Detailed information around Ofgem’s plans for RiiO-2 can be found in their Final Determinations.

It’s not just Ofgem pushing gas network innovation in the right direction. The Energy Networks Association (ENA) has also been pivotal in guiding network innovation in this sector. They’ve achieved this, in part, by laying out key themes, objectives, principals and outcomes for networks to work towards. You can read more about this on the ENA Website.

Key highlights of UK gas innovation include:

  • Hydrogen (H21) - One of the most ambitious sets of projects, H21 is centered around the UK gas networks switching from natural gas (such as methane) to hydrogen. Find out more by heading to the H21 Website.
  • Asset Optimisation - The UK gas networks have undergone some of the largest asset replacement and optimisation activities in recent years, with RiiO-2 paving the way for further development in this area. Significantly, is the replacement of old iron pipes with new plastic pipes, which is explained in this article from Matt Hindle.
  • Customer Vulnerability - Customer vulnerability is a growingly contentious issue, with 2.4 million households classed as ‘fuel poor’ in 2018. To address these issues, Ofgem has published a new strategy tackling customer vulnerability until 2025.


The UK electricity industry isn’t entering their new price control period until 2023. Having said this, the sector is witnessing some of their greatest challenges yet. Networks must evolve to take on many of the responsibilities previously accounted for by fossil fuels.

Thus, Ofgem and the ENA are by no means forgetting about them. They are continuing to allocate resources to the continued development and innovation in the electricity networks.  

Key highlights of UK electricity innovation include:

  • Electric Vehicles (EV) - the replacement of petrol and diesel-based vehicles with electric-powered vehicles is gaining momentum every day. Networks therefore are adopting strategies to upgrade their existing networks, in preparation for more electric vehicles being on the road. You can read more about UKPN’s electric vehicles strategy.
  • Smart and Flexible Networks - electricity generation is moving away from 1-way systems, transferring electricity from plants to homes and business, to 2-way systems, transferring between decentralized renewables and places of use. More information can be found through the Open Networks Project.


The UK telecoms industry is managed and regulated differently to the more traditional utilities. The fact that it is newer technology with lower environmental impact, means there is less emphasis on carbon reduction. Nevertheless, the industry has proved itself as just as vital to society, particularly over the last year, where an increase in working from home has required fast and reliable internet connection for the majority of homes.

Key highlights of UK telecoms innovation include:

  • 5G - The rollout of 5G mobile connectivity will see faster speeds, lower latency, greater capacity and improved reliability. This is increasingly important, as more and more devices become dependent on internet connections to operate, known as the internet of things (IoT). The 5G rollout has made significant progress in the last year. New towers are being constructed every day. For more information, head over to the UK government’s factsheet on 5G.
  • Gigabit-capable Broadband - Working from home, along with the increased consumption of digital media, has led to an increasing demand for faster internet connection. The UK government is building upon the success of the superfast broadband rollout, with gigabit-capable broadband. More information on this topic can be found in its UK Parliament Report.

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