UK water industry sets 2030 net zero target

April 3, 2020

Water UK has announced that it will develop plans to achieve net zero emissions across the water sector by 2030.

The trade body represents more than 25 water and wastewater companies. Water UK has already cut emissions by 43% since 2011, with renewable electricity generation increasing by 40% in that time. This has occurred despite population increases and the impact of the climate crisis.

Following work with two consultancies, Ricardo and Mott Macdonald, it has set out how it can create a strategy to cut emissions. At an event on 6 March, the project consultants presented an analysis to delegates from the water sector of the water sector’s efforts to reduce emissions to date, and outlined objectives towards achieving net zero emissions.

These aims include: cutting methane and other emissions from wastewater treatment processes, improving energy efficiency, increasing use of renewable sources such as solar and anaerobic digestion, and generating biogas for the gas grid.

A full strategy based on the discussion from the event and the recommendations by the consultancies is due to be published in the summer. When the strategy is drawn up, progress on reaching the 2030 target will be assessed annually and companies will be encouraged to use the strategy to inform their own climate strategies. Water UK’s research will also be shared with other energy-intensive sectors to help them with their net zero plan.

Christine McGourty, Water UK Chief Executive, said: “The water industry has made an ambitious pledge to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. It’s a big challenge, but water companies are committed to protecting and enhancing the environment and intend to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. This new analysis setting out climate-friendly options is an important step forward.”

Ian Behling from the Ricardo Mott MacDonald project team, said: “The work we’ve done so far in developing the route map has highlighted the ambition shown by companies and the scale of the challenge to deliver against the commitment. It has also further highlighted the need for collaboration within and beyond the water sector to help deliver the innovation and change needed to meet the net zero challenge.”

Martin Currie, Water Quality & Treatment Consultant with Aqueum and Chair of IChemE’s Water SIG, said: “It is wonderful to see the UK water industry leading the country with its commitment to net zero emissions by 2030. This follows excellent progress already made.”

Currie highlighted three major decarbonisation challenges faced by process engineers in the water industry. Reducing emissions needs to be done while ideally using assets already in place to offset the carbon cost of new construction. Existing assets need to be optimised to convey and treat more water and wastewater to deal with population increases, while also upholding stringent quality standards, but decarbonising at the same time is a challenge. Previously this has been done by employing “high rate” processes that use less energy to process more water. The greatest challenge is that posed by the climate crisis itself through increased drought and water quality deterioration. Low levels in reservoirs can result in algal blooms which are difficult to treat.

“The water industry in some countries faces a catch-22 on climate change,” said Currie. “Desalination of seawater offers an escape from reliance on dwindling freshwater resources. Conversely it is the most energy intensive means of potable water production, hence hardest to decarbonise. In an increasing number of regions, desalination and treated effluent reuse are the only viable means of meeting increasing water demand, hence development in these sectors is of critical global importance. Across the world, the opportunities of resource recovery including biogas generation, agricultural use of biosolids and effluent reuse mean the water industry has a leading role to take in the circular economy.”