Net Zero Water

Unlocking a net zero carbon future

Introduction to Net Zero Water

As a sector that is rooted in the environment, the water industry is committed to playing its part in tackling the threat of climate change and limiting the rise of global temperatures to 1.5°C.

In 2019, water companies in England joined forces to make a pledge to reach net zero on operational emissions by 2030. Since then, companies in Scotland and Wales have committed to achieving carbon neutrality across all emissions by 2040 with a pledge from Northern Ireland to deliver the same target by 2050.

Introduction to Net Zero Water

Net Zero 2030 Routemap

Find out more about our commitment to reach net zero on operational emissions in the Net Zero 2030 Routemap – the world’s first detailed plan of its kind.

Water and climate change

The climate emergency presents an extreme challenge to water and sewage treatment in the UK with a significant increase of drought risk predicted between now and 2050. These droughts are increasing in frequency, severity, and duration due to the climate emergency and population growth.

Without action, the risk of not having enough water to satisfy our customers’ demand is very real.

Water companies across the UK are adapting to this challenge in a number of ways, from building the resilience of our supplies by cutting losses through leaks, to the development of bold projects to move water around the country. We’re also preparing for more floods with new investment plans that set climate-ready standards for drainage.

But we know it’s not enough to be ready for climate change. We want to limit it.

Water supply decrease by 7%

Total water supply is forecast to decrease by 7% by 2045 as a result of the climate emergency and limits to sustainable abstraction

Restrictions due to drought x2 as likely

Between 2020 and 2050, we are twice as likely to have a year with water restrictions due to droughts in England when compared to the 1997-2004 time period.

Supply restrictions 1-in-4 – 1-in-7 chance

The chance of a serious drought between now and 2050 that results in water deficits and requires supply restrictions is between 1-in-7 and 1-in-4.

Understanding our emissions

The UK water industry is responsible for the delivery of 15 billion litres of water and the treatment of sewage from over 28 million properties every day. We do this through a significant network of interconnected assets, including over 7,000 treatment sites and enough buried pipework to reach to the moon and back.

Moving and treating water is an energy intensive process, which leads to the emission of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. Our emissions as a sector can broadly be split into operational and capital, also known as embedded, emissions.

Operational emissions are emitted through our everyday processes and activities.

Electricity

We use electricity for part of the water treatment process and pumping water, as well as powering offices, buildings and electric vehicles.

Process emissions

Methane and nitrous oxide are released when chemical changes are made to raw materials during the water and sewage treatment process and make up a significant proportion on our overall carbon footprint.

Transport

Many of the sector’s vehicles are currently fuelled by diesel or petrol, responding to hundreds of customer callouts every day.

Natural gas and gas oil

We use gas for some wastewater treatment processes and to heat our buildings, while gas oil is used on remote sites for heating and generating electricity.

Capital emissions are associated with building works and construction projects.

Electricity

A lot of electricity is used in the delivery of new infrastructure, making it the largest source of capital emissions.

Concrete

Concrete is a very important, but carbon intensive material used in the construction of buildings and sewer systems.

Metal

Along with concrete, metal is one of our biggest sources of capital carbon with emissions coming from mining the ore from the ground, shipping it to the factory and turning it into a material we can use.

Fuels

The equipment and vehicles our partners and ourselves use are mostly run on fossil fuels like diesel.

The journey to Net Zero Water

The sector’s journey to net zero carbon will be a complex one, bringing together a variety of technologies, initiatives and behaviours to drive down emissions. Each water company will have its own detailed plan, reflecting specific operational requirements and localised factors such as electricity grid constraints. Individual company plans will also set out in more detail how net zero will be delivered in harmony with the plans of key regional stakeholders including electricity distribution network operators, local authorities, and environmental NGOs.

Water companies are committed to protecting customer bills by taking a ‘least cost’ approach to decarbonisation that maximises opportunities to generate new income or improve efficiency.

O F F S E T T I N G C R B O N E I S S I O N S T C K L I N G W T E R S V I N G P O W E R I N G C L E N E R F U T U R E H R N E S S I N G N T U R E

Catchment management approaches including tree-planting and peatland restoration play a critical role in cleaning up water at source, reducing the amount of treatment that is needed before it reaches the customer. Wetland treatment centres also offer an environmentally friendly alternative to concrete and steel infrastructure solutions that are inherently carbon intensive.

The deployment of on-site renewables such as solar power and advanced anaerobic digestion (AAD) play an essential role in reducing the carbon intensity of our sites, allowing us to produce our own clean power and reduce the amount of power that needs to be imported from the grid. Many water and wastewater treatment sites are already operating on an energy neutral basis and are even exporting green power and gas into the national electricity and gas grids.

The treatment of water and wastewater is a carbon-intensive business so we’re working hard to reduce the amount of water that is lost from our network through leaks while helping our customers to play their part in protecting this precious resource. Companies are deploying a variety of techniques to find and fix more leaks from our network of underground water pipes, which extends to almost half a million kilometres. We’re also working to raise awareness of the pressures on the UK’s water resources and help the public to take water-saving measures at home through our Water’s Worth Saving campaign.

We’re investing heavily in the transition of our operational and maintenance vehicles away from fossil fuels, working with vehicle manufacturers to boost the availability of suitable vans and heavy goods vehicles that run on low carbon fuels such as electricity and biogas. We’re also deploying new measures to directly monitor the emissions associated with the water and sewage treatment process to inform global emissions reporting methodologies, design measures to mitigate the impacts ahead of 2050, as well as searching for new solutions

Carbon offsetting is considered as a last resort to address residual emissions after all other opportunities for emissions reduction and deployment of renewables have been taken. We are working to identify the best opportunities for decarbonisation in the UK and have established a dedicated working group to support the development of a robust UK market for businesses to procure offsets to counter hard to abate process emissions.

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Green Finance Taskforce

Delivering the transition to Net Zero 2030 will cost in the region of £2-4bn. Chief Finance Officers and finance and sustainability officers across the industry have committed to working collectively on Green Finance issues which can help unlock the investment required to secure the transition to net zero.

By working together through the Taskforce, the industry will amplify its voice on the regulation and policy required to shape a supportive investment environment, identify strategic opportunities to engage with green finance initiatives and the finance sector, and build on the sector’s excellent reputation for green investment on the world stage at COP26.

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