UK ‘innovative enough’ to reach 20% water reduction by 2050

The efficiency work being carried out by water utility companies is likely to help the UK achieve water savings of up to 10% by 2020 and at least 20% by 2050, says Paul Jeffrey from Cranfield University.

Jeffrey is the co-author of a Policy Brief on Carbon Sensitive Urban Water Futures, which addresses the supply of quality water to a growing population.

According to the brief, reducing the amount of embedded carbon and energy used in the delivery systems is adding to the challenge.

Most methods of generating energy use water and both water supply and wastewater treatment require energy, particularly electricity.

Jeffrey told edie that he was optimistic about reaching a 20% water reduction target by 2050 and believed that water utility companies are making good progress towards this objective.

However, Jeffrey showed less enthusiasm for going beyond the 20% target.

“Pushing further than the 20% will be a struggle because you’re getting decreasing returns on your interventions having picked the low lying fruit and realising the big wins.

“But if you look at the work that is being done in several utilities on anaerobic digestion, optimising pumping and the use of aeration in aerobic treatment systems, the 20% target is achievable,” he added.

Arguably the biggest issue the global community faces in meeting water reduction targets is the increase in demand from a growing population, which puts further pressure on the utility companies to develop and ensure the UK’s infrastructure is meeting the needs of the population while taking into account efficiency.

“This will mean more pipes, more pumps and more treatment works which is counter acting the utility company’s efforts to reduce consumption. But if you look at it in terms of energy taken and carbon per litre of delivered water then the 20% reduction is feasible.

“It is generally difficult for the utility companies to just replace piping for example. It’s very inefficient to dig stuff up and replace it just because you’ve got something new – you need to be able to coordinate that replacement with equipment lifecycles and maintenance regimes, so it can take time”.

Jeffrey pointed out that this restriction was down to the nature of the infrastructure in the UK.

“This strongly shapes our opportunities for making radical change,” he added.

However, Jeffrey commended the UK for its innovation and explained that it was not the lack of ideas available but the challenge lies in turning those ideas into feasible and economically efficient solutions that the operators are happy to adopt.

“It’s all about getting those innovative ideas shaped in a way that the water sector can use,” he said.

Leigh Stringer

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