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  • Andrew Byrne

UK water utilities target net zero emissions

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Perhaps it’s the ubiquitous nature of water to anybody living in the UK – as an island, we’re surrounded by it and we’re no strangers to rain – but it’s easy to forget about the environmental effect of maintaining the water supply. Over the course of 2020, the resources of the regional water companies have been stretched like never before by flash-flooding, soaring temperatures, storms and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic with its emphasis on hygiene and hand washing.

To ameliorate this, Water UK – the trade association which represents the major water companies – are building the resilience of their supplies by eradicating leaks, developing plans to move water around the country and preparing better defences against floods. A worst case scenario is that climate change and population growth could leave England with a shortfall of over 3 billion litres of water per day by 2050.

Conscious of the carbon footprint of meeting these challenges, Water UK has announced a plan to reach net zero operational emissions by 2030, 20 years ahead of the UK government’s legally binding target. The Net Zero 2030 Routemap, released by Water UK on November 12th, sets six commitments for water companies and four recommendations for policymakers to meet net zero and keep customer bills and investment costs as low as possible.

The plan could save the emission of around 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gas with the estimated investment required between £2 and £4 billion.

Currently, across 7,000 sites, the UK’s water companies provide 15 million litres of water to customers and treat the sewage from over 28 million properties. The carbon emissions of doing so has already been reduced since 2011 by 43% (to 2.4 million tonnes in 2019) through greater use of renewable energy and the production of biomethane from sewage treatment processes. Water UK’s strategy to get to net zero commits them to:

  • Make all their passenger vehicles electrified and switch 80% of their fleet of trucks and lorries to alternative fuels.

  • Reduce leakages by up to 7%.

  • Develop up to three gigawatts of new solar and wind power generation, equivalent to 80% of the industry’s electricity demand.

  • Provide biomethane from sewage waste to the National Grid.

  • Restore 20,000 of grassland and peatland and planting more than 11 million trees to absorb carbon and reduce demand on treatment.

  • Reduce process emissions by 60%.

To ensure the implementation of this ambitious plan, Water UK acknowledges that they need assistance and call on the support of government, regulators and the supply chain to help them reach net zero. The plan has already been lauded by industry analysts, environmentalists and bodies such as the RSPB, Woodland Trust and Natural England.


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