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Need Accurate Sustainability Reporting? Make sure you have quality data first!

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By Bill Identity

Sustainability reporting should be a quick and easy way to understand how your business performs against best sustainability practices relating to energy, water and waste, and employee programs. Get ahead of the curve and download your free guide from Bill Identity today.

Click to Download Free Guide

BT’s Water Journey: An Interview with Matthew Power, Utilities Commercial Specialist

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

In the latest instalment of our industry executive interview series, we spoke to Matthew Power (pictured, below), Utilities Commercial Specialist at BT, about his company’s water needs and how the organisation is working with Waterscan to transform its management and usage…

Matthew, tell us about BT’s experience of water before the market opened. We have a large property portfolio but individually our sites tend not to use much water. Many unmanned sites have only welfare facilities that are used occasionally. From a management perspective, the nature of such a property portfolio has caused a few issues. For example, it has meant that many meters were not being read regularly so our ability to manage leakage and accruals for water charges was limited. Also, the sheer quantity of supplies and regional water suppliers we were dealing with meant that we were processing huge numbers of paper bills – a manual and very time-consuming administrative process.

So, how did BT approach the open water market? What were you looking to achieve? Initially we tendered for a single retailer so that we could reduce the administrative burden of multiple suppliers and paper billing and to try to ensure more regular meter reads. However, we were very surprised to receive no bids from the invited retailers, so we started to look at other options. 

We had worked with Waterscan for a long time on various projects and saw how the team there were partnering with other large organisations to self-supply and began to realise that this route could potentially solve many of our issues too. The opportunities arising from becoming a market participant and helping to shape the water market’s development as a self-supplier also appealed to us.

What has been achieved since? We received our licence at the end of 2018 and began switching our supply points over in a staged programme organised by their team from the following June. To date, 6,513 supply points have been successfully switched, with just a handful remaining. We have automated a lot of the payment processes now too, and this is saving us significant administrative costs. The tangible benefits of this approach have been such that we decided to move our EE portfolio over to this model too and these supply points are currently in transition.

One of our greatest achievements is that the vast majority of our water meters have now been located, verified and read, which means that we have accurate benchmark consumption data on which we can base future strategic decisions. The industry terms a ‘long-unread meter’ as one that has not been read for a year or more and we have reduced BT’s level from 25% to 5% of our meters. I understand that no-one else in the water market has achieved such a feat. In fact, our large number of supply points means that BT is equivalent to a large retailer in the market and we’re currently outperforming all these – unexpected, but really pleasing!

Why are long-unread meters such a problem? For us, being a good water steward means we need good data to manage our usage. If meters are not being read regularly and accurately, this reduces our ability to spot leakages, ultimately increasing our burden on the water networks and wasting resources. What’s more, when leaks are detected, a large catch-up bill that we have not accounted for tends to follow and this makes controlling our water spend much harder.

As a result of our improved water consumption data, we have already identified and repaired a number of large underground leaks and we have also been able to start assessing the consumption impact of a planned roll-out of new cooling systems that use mains water.

Self-supply has been a successful strategy for other companies too: why do you think this is? As mentioned, self-supply puts you in control of your meter reads, but it also gives you access to central market data which means a greater ability to monitor and manage usage and ensure accurate charges. Through our MOSL membership and having more direct contact with Ofwat and other market participants through the Self-Supply Users Forum, we also now have a broader understanding of the challenges the market faces and how these could impact our own operations. This gives us an unparalleled opportunity to plan for, and mitigate, these risks. 

What is BT’s next set of priorities and how will these be achieved? While BT is not a particularly large water user, we do have systems installed at many sites that rely on mains water, particularly in hot weather, so good water stewardship is particularly important to us. 

We are keen to look more specifically at our sites in water-stressed catchment areas so we can help resilience efforts and review contingency plans for sites that are at the highest risk of a water outage. Good data and automation of processes are key for us to achieve this.

From a wider perspective, we are extremely interested to see how the water market develops. Where we can exert our influence to ensure that it continues to improve for customers, we are keen to do so. 

Having achieved so much in such a short space of time, what lessons can other organisations learn from BT’s approach to the water market? Based on our experience, I expect that most large organisations should be able to realise benefits from engaging with the water market and I would advise them to investigate all the options available. For us, partnering with Waterscan to self-supply proved to be the optimal solution to help us manage our water usage and spend and, because we now have complete control, the journey to date has already delivered benefits that we hadn’t anticipated.


UK water industry aiming for Net Zero by 2030

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The water industry says it’s the first sector in the UK to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2030, with Water UK presenting analysis of the work carried out so far, plus options for companies to consider as they develop their future plans.

As well as the immediate impact of carbon reductions, the industry intends to share its learnings to help other major energy-using industries to deliver their own plans.

Progress on the net zero carbon goal will be independently assessed each year by two international consultancies – Ricardo and Mott MacDonaldwith – with key milestones reported publicly. Individual companies will use the action plan to inform their own detailed approaches to meeting net zero across the industry by 2030.

The options include:

  • Reducing emissions caused by wastewater treatment processes – cutting the amount of methane and other gases being released from wastewater treatment works
  • Increased energy efficiency– putting in place cutting-edge systems to manage energy
  • Increasing self-generated renewables– such as solar power and anaerobic digestion
  • Purchasing green electricity– low carbon sources such as wind power and biomass
  • Providing biogas to the energy grid– so other industries have access to low carbon gas
  • Rolling-out electric and alternative fuel vehicles– hydrogen and vegetable oil-powered
  • Moving to electric-powered construction equipment– such as diggers

The water industry says it has already taken some significant steps to reduce gross operational emissions, cutting them by 43% since 2011 despite a growing population and the impacts of climate change.

Companies have increased their own renewable electricity generation by over 40% in that time and have also changed the way they buy power. There has been a significant increase in the purchasing of green electricity to over 2000 GWh – enough to power all the households in the UK for three days.

The water sector’s lead on committing to a carbon zero future by 2030 forms part of the industry’s Public Interest Commitment (PIC) announced last year, with the carbon zero goal being one of five stretching social and environmental ambitions.

Each of the goals in the PIC is sponsored by one or more water company Chief Executives. The net zero carbon pledge is sponsored by Peter Simpson, Anglian Water; Heidi Mottram CBE, Northumbrian Water; and Liz Barber, Yorkshire Water.

Water UK Chief Executive Christine McGourty said: “The water industry has made an ambitious pledge to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. It’s a big challenge, but water companies are committed to protecting and enhancing the environment and intend to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. This new analysis setting out climate-friendly options is an important step forward.”

Peter Simpson, Chief Executive of Anglian Water, said: “Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it’s the defining societal and economic challenge of our time. The issue is a genuine emergency, we have no time to waste. Achieving net zero is part of our industry’s wider commitment to always act in the public interest.”

Heidi Mottram CBE, Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water, said: “As we approach the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 – in Glasgow later this year, the urgency and necessity of taking action has only increased. Britain has sought to be a leader in tackling the climate crisis, which gives all of us in business and industry the potential and opportunity to demonstrate leadership.”

Ian Behling from the Ricardo Mott MacDonald project team said: “The work we’ve done so far in developing the route map has highlighted the ambition shown by companies and the scale of the challenge to deliver against the commitment. It has also further highlighted the need for collaboration within and beyond the water sector to help deliver the innovation and change needed to meet the net zero challenge.”