Carbon ambition ‘not uniform’ across water industry says report

The Chartered Institution of water and environmental management (CIWEM) has called on water industry regulator Ofwat to incentivise the water industry to cut energy and carbon.

In a new report published today, A blueprint for carbon emissions reduction in the UK water industry, CIWEM said water companies should deliver progressive cuts in carbon emissions to help meet national reduction targets set by the Climate Change Act. The UK water industry is a large consumer of energy − it is responsible for 3% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions − but CIWEM believes it is well placed to reduce these emissions and become a significant generator of renewable energy.

Alastair Chisholm, CIWEM policy manager and lead report author, said: “The industry is awake to this issue, with the most ambitious water companies aspiring to carbon neutrality by the target date of 2050. But that ambition is not uniform across the industry, and in order achieve this aspiration, incentives are likely to be needed to help drive companies past the easy wins.”

Though supportive of the economic regulator’s position which gives companies flexibility to meet these emission targets, CIWEM believes there is scope for a financial incentive mechanism to be worked into Ofwat’s future price limits work. 

The report suggests the industry could and should be working to reduce its carbon emissions by around 10% per five-year investment cycle.  CIWEM said this would drive a trajectory broadly in line with achieving the 80% reduction by 2050.

However, CIWEM said this will not be possible through reducing direct industry emissions alone, and more action will be needed to reduce indirect emissions, through a combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy generation and purchase of low-carbon grid electricity.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • Water companies should be given a target of reducing water demand of 1 l/p/d/year for domestic supplies. For non-households this should be 3% a year
  • Greater attention should be paid to removing the regulatory barriers to widespread employment of co-digestion
  • Water companies should be actively encouraged to use their landholdings for the optimum generation of renewables
  • Ofwat should encourage greater investment in R&D on low carbon solutions, including those which have a longer-term time horizon
  • Ofwat and the government should encourage and facilitate greater collaboration between water companies in the development of innovative technology

CIWEM also calls on Ofwat, the Environment Agency and Defra to ensure that a balanced and proportionate approach is taken to the dichotomy between high carbon treatment solutions and local environmental regulations. It said there is a conflict between this kind of environmental quality legislation and the climate change mitigation implications of treating water to an ever-higher standard.

Maureen Gaines

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie