Addressing climate change

The projected impacts of climate change across London and the Thames Valley will compound a difficult situation in which our water resources are already stressed and the population is increasing. We believe that a twin track approach of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions (‘mitigation’) combined with managing the unavoidable impacts of climate change on our business (‘adaptation’) is essential if we are to manage the challenges that climate change represents to delivering water and wastewater services.

One way we’re managing the unavoidable impacts of climate change on our business is to reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in support of the Climate Change Act 2009. We are working hard to manage our operational GHG emissions by improving our understanding about where they come from and reducing them through becoming more energy efficient and generating our own renewable electricity.

Compared to 1990 levels of 845.8 kTCO2e, we’ve achieved a 35.6% reduction in our gross emissions*. We’re not able to generate all our electricity needs by ourselves so we source the remainder as renewable grid electricity # . When the purchase of renewable grid electricity is taken into account, the net reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions emission was 67 per cent compared to 1990 levels *# . This means we reduced our GHG emissions by more than our 2020 target of 34% against a backdrop of serving around 3 million more customers. 2018/19 was the second full year of using 100% renewable grid electricity.

* Scope 1 emissions refer to greenhouse gas emissions associated with the operation of our assets. Scope 2 emissions are emissions associated with the use of grid electricity.

# The grid electricity we import is 100% Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) accredited. We use the government’s REGO accreditation scheme to demonstrate that the electricity we consume is from a renewable source.

Renewable electricity generation

Generating our own renewable electricity helps us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, avoids the equivalent of around £32 million a year in energy costs, improves resilience by reducing our reliance on grid electricity and makes even better use of valuable resources.

In 2018/19, we generated 22 per cent of our own electricity needs from renewable sources including sludge (281GWh), wind (5GWh) and solar power (12GWh). We have two wind turbines at sites in east London and Solar Panels at 43 sites, including Europe’s largest floating solar panel array at our Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir. The low carbon and renewable energy produced by the floating solar array is used to help power the nearby Hampton water treatment works.

Most of the renewable electricity we self-generate comes from the treatment of sludge as it is an energy rich resource with a high calorific content. We’ve been producing renewable energy at our larger sewage works since the 1930s, mainly with Anaerobic Digestion (AD). By investing in our infrastructure and using a combination of methods and new technologies such as Thermal Hydrolysis Process (THP), we’re able to increase the amount of renewable energy produced from sludge.

Over the past five years we’ve delivered a 15 per cent reduction in grid electricity consumption, and we’re planning to increase this to 23 per cent by 2020. We are continuing to find ways to use less energy by being more efficient, making more of our own renewable electricity, and continuing to invest in low carbon operational processes and assets to achieve our challenging goal to become zero net carbon by 2030 and help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

We believe it is important to set our sights high to help keep global warming below 1.5℃. In April 2019, we set ourselves a very challenging goal to become zero net carbon by 2030 for our operational activities, underlining our commitment to mitigate climate change twenty years ahead of the recently announced Government target. We will be developing our plan over the next few years of how we will achieve this goal.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt by our business. In simple terms climate change is a long-term shift in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather. Over the past few years alone, climate change is likely to have contributed to several extreme weather events which have all significantly affected our ability to deliver our service to our customers, including:

  • Hottest summer on record for England in 2018
  • Late February and early March 2018 – ‘The Beast from the East’
  • October 2016 to March 2017 - the driest period since 1995/96
  • In 2014 - the wettest English winter since 1766
  • The floods of 2013/14
  • In 2012 - the wettest summer for 100 years
  • Drought in 2010/12

It’s widely accepted that climate change is a serious issue and a major challenge to society, however, it is almost impossible to predict the full extent and precise timing of its impacts. This makes planning for issues extremely challenging to ensure we continue to provide the essential water and wastewater services to 15 million customers from nearly 7000 operating sites.

We have management and business continuity plans to deal with severe weather events that can damage the integrity of our infrastructure, and these were implemented in response to the 2018 “freeze-thaw”. We monitor short- and long-term weather conditions so we can manage and respond to conditions for the benefit of customers including:

  • Preparing for how extreme weather, such as low or excess rainfall, could impact the resilience of our water and wastewater assets that our customers rely on;
  • Predicting how forecast temperatures might affect infrastructure, and whether fluctuations in temperature require a response;
  • Forecasting the temperature to inform how water demand is affected, thereby improving performance; and,
  • Assessing how rainfall patterns could impact our water and wastewater network resilience.

Through a review of the potential impacts of climate change on the business, we identified that our key issues are still broadly associated with either too much, too little or the wrong sort of water. This challenge is reflected in the performance commitments below which are agreed with our regulator, Ofwat, and included in our current business planning period which ends in 2020.

To provide resilience to future extreme rainfall events at water and wastewater sites for our performance commitments WB8 and SB7, we have delivered protection at the following water treatment works: Waltham Abbey; Coppermills; Hornsey and Lee Bridge; and have delivered improvements at the following sewage treatment works: East Hyde and Rye Meads. Managing surface water at source through sustainable drainage systems allows us to not only tackle flood risk, but also increase resilience against climate change. We are on track to deliver our SB5 target in the current regulatory period and between 2020 and 2025 we are looking to increase our target more than three-fold, providing a wide range of benefits to our customers beyond that of improving asset resilience. Read more detailed information on leakage.

In 2016, we produced a short report and a number of illustrative case studies which describe our progress in responding to climate change between 2010 and 2015. We’ll update on our progress in 2020.

Our employees and alliance partners play an essential role in our journey to becoming more sustainable. We’ve challenged our alliance partners to help us become more resilient and minimise both the operational and embodied carbon impacts of all their programmes. We want to make it easy for our teams to make more sustainable choices in how we respond to the challenges of tackling climate change.

An important part of this is the need to work with other organisations to develop resilient responses to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, and to reduce our net operational greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030. We know we can’t do this alone, so we’re continuing to work collaboratively with our customers, employees, partners, suppliers and regulators to better understand what we can do and create opportunities to deliver timely solutions.

During 2018/19 we’ve carried on working closely with a range of other organisations to tackle the issue of climate change and lead debate. Some of these partners have been:

  • The Aldersgate Group
  • The Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change
  • Business in the Community
  • The Thames Water Customer Challenge Group
  • Defra
  • London Climate Change Partnership
  • The Climate Change Committee’s adaptation sub-committee
  • Action for the River Kennet (ARK)
  • BEIS
  • WaterUK
  • A range of academic institutions including the University of Oxford and Imperial College