Canal network could help safe-guard UK water supply and renewables distribution

Building a comprehensive new canal network would not only address the difficulties of managing the UK's water supply, but would have additional benefits such as the efficient distribution of renewable energy.

According to construction consultancy Davis Langdon’s David Weight, the idea was a traditional one primarily based around transport but that in the current climate of extreme weather, it was time to revisit it with a holistic approach for energy transfer as well as water. 

Talking to delegates at the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) annual conference this morning, Weight said: “Three quarters of our water we use, through items we buy, is exported from other nations. We can’t rely on that forever – it is not the resilient approach.”

In addition, Weight noted that by 2030 the world would need to produce 50% more food, 50% more energy and 30% more fresh water.

Using a canal system to transfer water from the Southern Highlands in Scotland to other areas in the UK, where less rain falls, would be an efficient way to manage water distribution across the Country, according to Weight.

He added that most of the UK’s renewable energy was generated in Scotland through wind energy and that current plans to transport this energy by pipes in the sea were expensive and inefficient. Using pipes in canals to transfer this energy would be less prone to damage, more efficient and need less maintenance.

Another purpose of the canals would be to transport biomass and therefore reduce the amount of fuel imported from abroad.

Weight claimed that the canals would allow biomass grown in the North of England to be transported around the country in a low cost, low energy way.

The canal infrastructure could also act as a communication network, mitigating the effects of data centres, which are extremely energy intensive.

The cost of the entire new canal system would be around £14.1bn, but the first phase, which would involve building on the existing network of canals, would be a good start according to Weight, and would cost around £3bn.

Conor McGlone

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