The UK’s water utilities have come together to deliver a plan for net zero water supply by 2030, marking the world’s first sector-wide commitment of its kind.
On 12 November, Water UK published Net Zero 2030 Routemap, setting out a vision of how water companies, which account for almost a third of UK industrial and waste process emissions, can play their part in tackling climate change. By joining forces in such a way, the sector is expecting to be able to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10mn tonnes, with a potential investment of £2-4bn forecast – based on current available technology and known costs. This figure is expected to become clearer as companies develop their own plans.
By 2030, the water industry is aiming to see the production of biomethane from sewage waste, allowing green gas to be injected into the grid to heat up to 150,000 homes, as well as for use as an alternative fuel for transport; the development of 3GW of new solar and wind capacity to meet 80% of the sector’s electricity demands; the restoration of 20,000 hectares of owned peatland and grassland; the planting of 11mn trees; and the electrification of 100% of passenger vehicles, as well as the transitioning of 80% of commercial vehicles to alternative fuels.
Throughout the routemap, several areas where hydrogen could play a role are identified, including in transport. While there could be a switch to ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) for lights good vehicles and some heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), other “hard to treat” HGVs could move to hydrogen and biofuel. To enable use of zero emission transport fleets, the sector would have to develop its own charging infrastructure at sites; develop hydrogen and biofuel refuelling for HGVs; and identify alternative low and zero emission fuel sources for HGVs and engage with the transport sector to encourage and accelerate commercialisation of them.
In the short to medium term, the sector will look to the purchasing of green electricity, before looking to alternative power sources, such as hydrogen, to meet power demand. It would look to develop commercial arrangements that co-locate hydrogen production near wastewater treatment sites that could then use the oxygen by-product for aeration. As hydrogen production increases across the UK, it could then be adopted as an alternative to current fuel sources for standby generation.
Elsewhere, it addressed potential areas for innovation, including co-location of hydrogen and pure oxygen aeriation. It explained that while hydrogen as a potential fuel source, for its power demand and transport is a clear opportunity for the sector, the water sector also could play a part in accelerating production of hydrogen. It touched on how research in Australia has shown possible capital and operational benefits from co-locating the production of hydrogen on wastewater treatment sites and using the oxygen by-product to aerate activated sludge processes. Such an option could increase the renewable export potential of the sector, providing clean power for the wider UK economy. Looking further ahead, the routemap acknowledged how current discussions in the UK around the production of green hydrogen coming from water through electrolysis may see the sector approached to see both whether and how it could contribute to a future UK hydrogen economy.