Assessing and anticipating the real world impact of innovative water technologies

Paul O'Callaghan*, Lakshmi Manjoosha Adapa, Cees Buisman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Many new water technologies are referred to as being disruptive. The term disruptive innovation is overused to the point that it has lost much of its meaning. There is no clear framework to quantify or measure the impact of new water technologies. This paper proposes a series of different metrics as an objective means to quantify the market impact of technologies based on empirical data, and assesses their practicality in application. Three different levels of market impact are defined, the lowest being Level 3 and the highest Level 1. Selected metrics are applied to empirical data for 11 different water technologies to test the framework. It was found that the average time required to reach Level 1 impact, from the first installation, was 21 years, while it was possible to move from Level 2 to Level 1 in 10 years. The presence of two to three competitors in the market has a synergistic effect and can accelerate overall adoption of a technology class. The fragmented nature of the water sector has been observed to act as a buffer against disruption. The metrics, which have been found to be useful in evaluating the impact of water technologies, are the total number countries in which the technology is adopted, the total number of units that have been deployed and the annual market value the technology achieved. It has also been observed that certain innovation typologies and innovation drivers are associated with high levels of market impact while other combinations are associated with zombie technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number128056
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2021


  • Disruptive innovation
  • Innovation diffusion
  • Market impact
  • Unicorn technologies
  • Water innovation
  • Water technology


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