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Energetic industry

As demand for higher productivity grows, the water industry is targeting one of
the sector’s biggest cost challenges. Jacob Tompkins reports. This article appears in
Water magazine 4 February 2004.
The water and wastewater sector faces a daunting set of challenges in energy
management. Rising prices, a higher profile for energy use, more legislation and the
effects of climate change are adding to the pressure on one of the industry’s less visible
cost centres. As part of their response, industry experts have come together to establish a
new Water UK network, the Energy Management Forum. The Forum, which is open to
all water and wastewater undertakers, plans to share best practice and build learning links
with experienced practitioners in other sectors.

Energy use

The importance is clearly demonstrated by the numbers. Energy use in the water and
wastewater sector is 6,000GWh per year, accounting for more than 2% of total UK
industrial consumption. The industry is the third highest user after steel and cement,
based on expenditure per unit value of product, though parts of the chemical industry are
also more energy-intensive.

Energy use is split evenly between drinking water supply and wastewater services. The
core functions are pumping and treating both drinking water and wastewaters and

Contamination of raw waters is leading to increased energy use for drinking water
treatment. This is particularly true for diffuse pollutants such as nitrates, which are rising
inexorably. Ironically European Directives aimed at improving raw water quality are also
increasing energy requirements for wastewater treatment. Most of the legislation - the
Urban Waste Water Treatment, Bathing Water, and Shellfish Water Directives among
others - is currently implemented through measures at wastewater treatment plants rather
than through land-use management.

The effects of a changing climate will also push up energy use. More extreme rainfall
conditions will bring higher incidence of flood and drought, leading to a greater
requirement for pumping to optimise resource distribution. Climate change may also lead
to higher pollution levels and increased treatment requirements.


Prospects for prices of energy all point to higher costs, with 2004 likely to see a
continuation of last year’s increases for both gas and electricity. So the unenviable
position arises of a rising energy profile, augmented by both the effects of climate change
and rising costs, which are themselves increased by fiscal action taken to offset climate

Industry action

In response the industry has established the Water UK Energy Management Forum,
bringing together the key water industry staff working on energy and emissions
management from a range of disciplines.

The Forum meets quarterly and communicates through bulletin boards and an electronic
network hosted by Water UK. It promotes discussion and co-operation on energy issues
across the industry. The principal aim is to provide a platform for spread of best practice,
benchmarking and technical innovation.

The new group is starting to gather sector specific information that will enable
benchmarking and better analysis of where energy saving should be targeted. The group
is proposing to collaborate on promoting low carbon technology with joint applications
for Carbon Trust money or additional UKWIR research in this area.

Setting up the Forum and developing a sector-wide network should lead to significantly
higher levels of energy conservation across the industry. While companies have been
taking action by introducing energy efficiency measures and reviewing usage, there has
been little coordinated sharing of knowledge. This is now expected to change with the
Forum providing a valuable stimulus to industry-wide action.


Joining the club

Despite its high-energy use ranking, the water and wastewater sector has been left out of
potential Climate Change Levy discounts available to others through negotiated
agreements. This has meant effective exclusion from the benefits of belonging to the
‘energy saving club’ and a range of government initiatives. The industry is still seeking
eligibility but, through the Forum, is now also taking action itself to improve
performance in the interests of customers and the environment.
Yet the EU Emissions Trading Scheme could complicate matters further because the
sector’s position is unclear here also. It appears that, as a sector, water is not covered by
the scheme, but water and wastewater treatment sites are covered if they have a thermal
energy input of greater than 20MW. As this includes standby generation, it may lead to
patchy and perverse coverage.

The Forum will also provide Water UK with background information to press for
equitable treatment of the sector under both EU and UK legislation.


The Government needs to develop urgently a serious policy on energy management and
energy efficiency promotion for the third largest energy use sector. The new Water UK
Forum should assist the process. It will be particularly helpful in enabling innovative
approaches to mitigating climate change impact by lower emissions, reducing energy use
and minimising cost increases for customers, especially in the context of PR04.