Carbon and climate
Carbon and climate
The world’s climate has already warmed by 1°C above pre-industrial levels and could warm by a further 2-3°C by the end of the 21st century. In the view of the United Nations, the UK Government and many other organisations, the level of warming leaves us facing a climate emergency and we must take urgent action if we are to avoid serious consequences. At Wessex Water we are addressing this necessity by:
- reducing our greenhouse gas emissions
- adapting to future impacts.
To reduce our contribution to climate change and in line with national and international agreements to limit global warming, we have committed to achieving net-zero operational carbon emissions by 2030, along with the rest of the water industry.
Net-zero carbon emissions result when the greenhouse gas emissions from our opera-tions (commonly expressed as carbon emissions, or carbon footprint) have been neutral-ised.
Our vision is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 with minimal emissions of other atmospheric pollutants.
Our current position
We have been monitoring carbon emissions since the late 1990s and targeting annual emissions reductions for more than 10 years.
Our carbon emissions come from:
- electricity used for pumping and treating water and sewage
- fossil fuels used on site such as gas and diesel
- contractor emissions
- process and fugitive emissions – mainly methane and nitrous oxide emitted from sewage and sludge treatment.
Electricity is responsible for the majority of our emissions currently, followed by process emissions (figure 1).
Figure 1 – carbon emissions breakdown for the baseline year 2018-19
|Activity||% CO2 emissions|
|Total grid electricity used||54.7%|
|Process and fugitive emissions||24.7%|
|Direct emissions from burning fossil fuels on site||7.6%|
|Contractors and outsourced activities||3.3%|
Our carbon emissions have dropped steadily for the past five years and are projected to continue to fall in the coming five years (figure 2). The primary reason for the decline in emissions is that the carbon intensity of the UK electricity grid has reduced, alongside our efforts to increase energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy
Figure 2 – operational carbon emissions (kilotonnes CO2e)
*note – net emissions are gross emissions minus emissions saved from additional renew-able energy we have exported to the national grid e.g. solar electricity.
Options for reaching net zero
We aim to reduce our emissions as much as possible, following a hierarchy of carbon management (figure 3) that includes a range of measures to do with our own activities. Additionally we are looking at the potential to enhance carbon sequestration in our re-gion. Buying carbon offsets would only be considered as a last resort.
- Avoiding emissions
- Energy efficiency
- Self generated renewable energy
- Renewable energy purchased
- Renewable energy exported
- Sequestration in our region
- Purchased offsets
We have a long-standing portfolio of carbon management work, majoring on energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy generation. These are the main actions we have taken in line with the carbon management hierarchy to date:
1. Avoiding energy use and emissions generation across company activities, eg, by reducing the volumes we pump and treat through leakage prevention.
2. Where energy is required, using it efficiently by monitoring and using smart controls on equipment.
3. Progressively switching our energy use toward renewable sources; particularly in-creasing the amount of renewable energy we generate ourselves – mainly from bio-gas produced from sewage sludge and food waste.
In the near future we expect carbon emissions to fall because of changes happening nationally such as the growth in electric vehicles and energy generation from renewable sources. In the next five years we aim to build on this through further efficiency schemes; reviewing alternative fuels for generators; a more efficient lower carbon vehicle fleet; and leakage reduction.
Beyond 2025, carbon reduction initiatives could include wind and solar power installations; other sludge-to-energy options and locking-up carbon in sludge as biochar; energy crops and biomass for heat generation; reduction of business journeys; and efforts to reduce supply chain emissions.
Alongside work to prevent emissions, we will investigate the potential to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration is the drawdown and storage of car-bon dioxide using measures such as tree planting, restoring and enhancing peat bogs and agricultural methods which encourage carbon retention in soil and vegetation. As we approach the 2030 target date, purchasing carbon offsets from the global market would be the last resort for addressing remaining emissions
Route map to net-zero emissions
WaterUK, with consultants Ricardo and Mott MacDonald, are leading work on the water industry’s commitment to achieve net-zero operational emissions. During phase one of the work a baseline for the year 2018-19 was established. Using this baseline, the project team is working towards producing an industry route map to net-zero emissions by 2030.
Informed by the WaterUK project, we are producing a detailed carbon route map of our own, with a strategy for net-zero emissions bespoke to Wessex Water based on measures that are most appropriate, achievable and cost effective for us. This route map will be available in early 2021.
Our commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 includes only operational carbon emissions, ie, those released by ongoing, day-to-day activities. We know that there is also a need to address carbon emissions from construction and from the supply chains of goods and services that we use. These emissions are known as embodied carbon.
Embodied carbon is rising rapidly up the environmental agenda. We need to move to-wards carbon accounting and management which encompasses carbon emissions from the lifecycle of goods and services as well as operations. This will allow us to make more informed decisions and enable a transition to a truly low carbon business. To this end, we are testing tools that estimate embodied carbon for capital schemes.