Supply chain vital to water industry carbon ambition

The water industry must utilise the skills offered by the supply chain if it is to meet its ambitious target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Reviewing the sector’s bold carbon commitment which was announced in April 2019, David Riley, Anglian Water’s head of carbon neutrality and chair of Water UK’s carbon working group, said the target was achievable but only if the expertise, tools and technology on offer throughout the industry were aligned. 

Riley said, “It is great that water companies of England have come together and announced this collective ambition. We all recognise it is a huge mountain to climb but it is achievable with the leadership we are now seeing, the alignment of ambition across companies, the supply chain and regulators, and the embracing of innovation.

“With the sector and supply chain acting in isolation, reductions in carbon would be made, but not to the levels required for net zero 2030. The sector has to be open to the opportunities the supply chain promotes – and the supply chain needs to respond to the challenge.”

Riley was speaking ahead of British Water’s Net Zero 2030 digital conference, which he will chair, on 1 July. The event will explore progress already made by the industry and identify areas of potential research to inform a national action plan. 

Riley said, “We have seen pockets of excellence across the sector, especially in areas such as renewable energy. The year-on-year increases in the biogas combined head and power units and wind and solar-powered water and wastewater treatment sites would now be sufficient to power over 400,000 homes.

“However, progress had not been consistent from 2008, when we had the development of the Carbon Accounting Workbook, which brought consistency and accuracy to the reporting process across the industry, and UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) measurement frameworks. The inconsistency was around leadership, setting targets and challenging the supply chain to deliver lower carbon solutions. 

“With the net zero carbon 2030 goal, we are now witnessing a change. Momentum and recognition of the need to take action is building – the industry is now at a point where it can use the data it has gathered over the last few years to shape a progressive zero carbon strategy.”

The water industry was the first sector in the UK to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. At a collaborative Water UK-hosted event in March 2020, industry leaders gave feedback on the development of a route map and options were set out for companies to consider as they developed their own future plans. 

These included reducing emissions caused by wastewater treatment processes, increased energy efficiency, increasing self-generated renewables such as solar power and anaerobic digestion, purchasing green electricity and rolling out electric and alternative fuel vehicles.

Riley said, “The development of the route map is also broadening knowledge beyond company boundaries to a sector-wide understanding of energy efficiency and, most importantly, the knowledge that exists across the supply chain and within other sectors. The sector does not have all the answers to some very challenging areas, so the ambition, leadership and support of our supply chain in unlocking opportunities to significantly reduce carbon in our operations is vital.”

Net Zero 2030 Digital Conversation is a first in a series of events from British Water that will promote avenues to a net zero future and comes at a time when global leaders are being urged to plan a green economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. How the water industry responds, and the progress it makes in meeting its 2030 target, will be closely observed by other industries and the UK government, which in June 2019 set a target for the UK to achieve net zero carbon by 2050. 

Riley said, “The work developing the sector route map has continued through this difficult time with Covid-19. There is a link to the water industry ambitions as we think through a ‘build back better’ approach – not only do we consider the carbon emissions in operating the assets we design but we are also challenging on how infrastructure across the UK is ready for the longer term climate challenges around flooding and drought.

“Other sectors and wider stakeholders are closely monitoring the approach being taken. Through Water UK and individual companies there is regular contact with the Committee on Climate Change to share our approaches and the part we play across the wider UK carbon ambitions.  

“Collaboration and virtual events are proving to be a particularly useful way to share knowledge and gain feedback on strategies and opportunities to tackle the climate emergency.” 

British Water’s chief executive Lila Thompson said, “The UK water industry is leading the way by committing to a net zero carbon future by 2030. Embedded in the sector and its supply chain are the skills and expertise to achieve the target but this must be underpinned by collaboration and leadership. I am proud that the industry is taking this positive step and I am looking forward to hearing valuable insights from its leading carbon neutrality experts on 1 July.”

Net Zero 2030 Digital Conversation takes place on 1 July. Speakers will also include Samuel Larsen, programme lead at Water UK, and Maria Manidaki, investment planning advisor at Mott MacDonald.