The UK water industry: towards a resilient and sustainable future

31 October 2023 09:00 - 17:25 Online Free Watch online
The curve of a large dam with dark blue water

This conference examined the challenges and opportunities facing the UK water industry and how scientific innovation in the sector can drive future progress.

This event explored how scientific innovation can help to address some of the most significant challenges facing the UK water industry over the coming years, and examined some of the key advances that are likely to be needed within industry and academia.

The programme opened with a keynote address from Professor Louise Heathwaite CBE FRS. Three sessions on climate resilience: coping with variability and unpredictability, water pollution and quality, and decarbonisation and energy were followed by panel discussion exploring the topics and the future of the water industry further.

Conference report

The UK water industry: towards a resilient and sustainable future conference report (PDF)

Transforming our future conferences

This conference formed part of the Royal Society's industry-focussed Transforming our future series. These unique meetings feature cutting-edge science and bring together experts from industry, academia, funding bodies, the wider scientific community and government to explore and address key scientific and technical challenges of the coming decade.

Organisers

  • Dr Mar Batista

    Dr Mar Batista

    Dr Mar Batista is Anglian Water Research and Insights Manager responsible for the leadership, strategic direction, and effective oversight of the delivery of Anglian Water's research portfolio.

    Dr Batista has Bachelor's in Agricultural Engineering by the Valencia Polytechnic University, Spain, a Master's in Environment and Natural Resources - Sustainable Water and Sanitation, Health and Development by the Norwegian University of Life Science, Norway and a Doctorate in Water from Cranfield University, United Kingdom.

    Dr Batista has more than 15 years of experience in the water sector. Before joining Anglian Water, she worked as a consultant in Spain and as Head of Programmes at British Water collaborating with UK and international water and wastewater companies, supply chain companies, government, and stakeholders across the sector. This has provided her with an excellent understanding of current and future water and environmental challenges. She is passionate about connecting people and ideas toward a sustainable future.

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    Professor John Beddington CMG FRS, Government Office for Science, UK

  • Professor Guangtao Fu, University of Exeter

    Guangtao Fu is an associate professor of Water Infrastructure Systems at the University of Exeter. He has a PhD in water resources engineering from Dalian University of Technology, China. Before joining Exeter he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bristol and Imperial College London. His research focuses on conducting fundamental and applied research at the interface between water systems and decision making by combining simulation, optimization, and analytics tools to tackle water management problems. He has published over 100 journal and conference papers and won a number of awards including the prestigious ASCE ‘Quentin Martin Best Practice Oriented’ research paper award in 2014.

    In his Industry Fellowship, he is investigating how to develop smart water infrastructure systems using Information and Communication Technologies and big data in the water industry in response to a changing environment through collaboration with Northumbrian Water Limited.

Schedule

09:00-09:05 Opening remarks
Dame Sue Ion GBE FREng FRS

Dame Sue Ion GBE FREng FRS

Chair of the Royal Society Science, Industry and Translation Committee

09:05-09:30 Opening keynote
Professor Louise Heathwaite CBE, Lancaster University, UK

Professor Louise Heathwaite CBE, Lancaster University, UK

Chair

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Professor John Beddington CMG FRS, Government Office for Science, UK

09:40-09:55 Strategic systems analysis of infrastructure options to ensure water supply resilience in extreme droughts

England’s water supplies face growing pressures from climate change, population growth and the need to reduce abstractions to restore the natural environment. A 1 in 500 drought resilience standard was proposed by the National Infrastructure Commission in 2018 and is now being implemented by the water industry. However, until quite recently, it was not actually known how England’s water supplies would respond to droughts that are more extreme than the worst historical drought, or how frequently the most severe water restrictions could be applied. Thanks to a programme of research by UKRI, the water industry, the Environment Agency and Ofwat, there is now a National System Simulation Model, which will be described in this talk. The modelling is being used to prioritize adaptation interventions and stress-testing possible new supply infrastructure in a wide range of possible future drought conditions. This talk will explain the current state of the art in national drought risk analysis, and explain gaps and areas for future research in climate modelling, hydrology, systems analysis and demand management.

Professor Jim Hall FREng, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Jim Hall FREng, University of Oxford, UK

09:55-10:10 Sustainable drainage systems: future innovations

Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) have been delivered for over 20 years, but perhaps the design and development of them has stagnated. To get out of the ‘SuDS rut’, it is time to shake things up a bit, and to deliver better designs that mitigate against the effects of climate change in towns and cities. Infrastructure must be ready for periods of heat, heavy rainfall events, sustained droughts and more. Well-designed SuDS can help to cope with these events, and, by going back to basics, substantial habitats for wildlife can be made too, creating a refuge from the hot and dusty city life.

Jo Bradley

Jo Bradley

Stormwater Shepherds

10:10-10:25 Innovations in water re-use and recycling

There is not enough water - at least, not in the form we want. Current analysis indicates water supply-demand deficits in the UK will become critical in the near future if we do nothing. So, what can be done?

Firstly, demand needs to be revisited. The average value stubbornly remains around 140 litres/person/day. Specifically, more focus is needed to targeted areas of excessive use with many people in dense urban areas already using less than 100 litres/person/day. The gain of reducing average demand significantly goes beyond water demand and has beneficial impacts on sewer overflows, wastewater treatment and emerging resource recovery activities.

Irrespective of this, we need to start recycling and reusing water at a range of scales from single households to large scale indirect reuse of processed sewage effluent. The latter requires post treatment with technology that mirrors that to produce feed water for hydrogen production from electrolysis. There is clearly synergy to be benefited from, such as utilising the waste pure oxygen for wastewater treatment. However, not everything should or can be large scale; for instance, individual house nature-based solution systems can offset demand for garden irrigation whilst enhancing garden aesthetics and improve mental well-being and environmental education. Overall, the options are legion, but what will do?

Professor Bruce Jefferson

Professor Bruce Jefferson

Cranfield University

10:25-10:40 Leakage research

The water industry has committed to halving leakage by 2050. Since the 1990s, leakage has been significantly reduced, but the increasing challenge of balancing water supply with protection of the natural environment means that it needs to be reduced further than ever.

There are two significant challenges facing water companies to reach the levels of reduction needed: the impacts of climate change on leakage breakout and the reduction in capability to detect leakage due to the changing composition of network materials.

This talk will show the nature of the challenges, show what work is being carried out to tackle the issues and act as a call for further assistance from the scientific community for innovation.

James Curtis

James Curtis

Affinity Water

10:40-11:00 Q&A and discussion session
Professor Jim Hall FREng, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Jim Hall FREng, University of Oxford, UK

Jo Bradley

Jo Bradley

Stormwater Shepherds

Professor Bruce Jefferson

Professor Bruce Jefferson

Cranfield University

James Curtis

James Curtis

Affinity Water

Chair

Dr Mar Batista

Dr Mar Batista

Anglian Water

11:35-11:50 Nurturing innovation and experimentation for long-term collaboration and relevance in large organisations

Innovation is imperative for long-term competitiveness, relevance and a sustainable future. However, adopting innovation in large organisations presents a multifaceted challenge in today's rapidly evolving business landscape. Large organisations, often characterised by established processes, hierarchies, and risk-averse cultures, face resistance to change. The inertia of existing systems and structures can impede the assimilation of novel ideas and technologies. Moreover, innovation necessitates investment in research, development, and training, posing financial constraints. The shift towards innovation may also provoke employee anxiety and uncertainty, demanding effective change management strategies. Achieving a balance between sustaining current operations and nurturing innovation can strain resources and leadership bandwidth. Further complexity arises when navigating regulatory, compliance, and legal frameworks.

This talk will outline ongoing barriers faced within industry to fostering a culture that encourages experimentation and effective co-ordination across diverse departments. Drawing on case studies, Steve will then discuss possible approaches to overcoming these barriers.

Steve Hanslow

Steve Hanslow

Siemens UK & Ireland

11:50-12:05 Integrated catchment management – working with others on farm to help improve water quality

Farmers play an important role in producing food and other raw materials, supporting rural economies and managing landscape and habitats, through which our water courses flow. Good farm and land management can go a long way to help address issues of water quality which come from many centuries of human activity, including agriculture.

This talk will explore examples of what is being done at farm level, working with catchment partners, to improve water quality and what more can be achieved in the coming years to address this important subject.

12:05-12:20 Novel technologies and innovations for addressing micropollutants

The subtle impact to water quality posed by micropollutants requires technological solutions beyond conventional treatment. One class of micropollutants is particularly challenging: pharmaceuticals. These chemicals are indispensable to society but can be detrimental to the aquatic environment. Recent progress in legislation opened market opportunities which will lead to commercialisation of a new assortment of quaternary treatment technologies. Research and development will provide solutions and the cost of implementation and operation will sustains another niche economy. Combinations of existing technologies are likely to become the primary choices for the water industry. Yet, it will require substantive vision in innovation to guarantee sustainability in favour of technological myopia.

Dr Fabio Bacci

Dr Fabio Bacci

Glanua Group Ltd

12:20-12:35 Implementing next-generation wastewater treatment technologies to meet new challenges

Climate change, river water quality, biodiversity and the sustainable use of resources are just some of the major challenges facing water utilities in the UK and globally. This talk will outline how Severn Trent (one of the largest water and wastewater utility companies in England) is developing, testing, and implementing circular economy, low carbon wastewater treatment technologies to meet these challenges.

The talk will cover activities at Severn Trent's Resource Recovery and Innovation Centre at Spernal Wastewater Treatment Plant (WwTP) where full scale trials to test the feasibility, viability and desirability of novel wastewater treatment technologies have been undertaken and how they are now implementing these technologies at full scale including at Strongford WwTP, Stoke-on-Trent - Severn Trent's net zero hub site.

Peter Vale

Peter Vale

Severn Trent Water

12:35-12:50 Potential applications of AI and other emergent technologies to the water industry

In this talk, Julie will reflect on the previous talks in the session and discuss some of the emerging technologies in the computer science space, and will suggest how they may be applied to problems in the water industry in the future.

Professor Julie McCann, Professor of Computer Systems, Imperial College London

Professor Julie McCann, Professor of Computer Systems, Imperial College London

12:50-13:10 Q&A and discussion session
Professor Julie McCann, Professor of Computer Systems, Imperial College London

Professor Julie McCann, Professor of Computer Systems, Imperial College London

Peter Vale

Peter Vale

Severn Trent Water

Steve Hanslow

Steve Hanslow

Siemens UK & Ireland

Dr Fabio Bacci

Dr Fabio Bacci

Glanua Group Ltd

Chair

David Butler FREng

Professor David Butler FREng

University of Exeter

13:10-13:25 Perspectives on the effects of water quality on health
Professor Sir Chris Whitty, FMedSci

Professor Sir Chris Whitty, FMedSci

Chair

Professor Guangtao Fu, University of Exeter

14:25-14:40 Decarbonising existing and new infrastructure: future challenges

This talk will give an overview of the main decarbonisation challenges for managing whole life carbon emissions in the UK water sector. It will discuss the regulatory and policy landscape, how our water sector fits to the national net zero transition and the systemic challenges when planning for maintaining, refurbishing and creating new infrastructure to meet different performance requirements.

The talk will also summarise current decarbonisation activities driven by the water sector value chain as well as future action we will need to take to help us accelerate our decarbonisation efforts and play our part to the national and global net zero transition.

Maria Manidaki

Maria Manidaki

Mott MacDonald

14:40-14:55 The water-energy-climate cycle: from vicious to virtuous?

Water, energy and climate are intricately linked at multiple scales and in multiple ways. Managing the interactions and interrelationships between them is one of the key challenges of our time. This talk will illustrate the main elements of the water-energy-climate cycle and explore some important interactions and interventions through the lens of urban water services.

'Vicious' interactions include on the one hand the significant water use implications of different energy generation technologies and on the other the energy/GHG emission implications of providing essential water services. A number of 'virtuous' interventions will be explored, with the emphasis on scaled up, innovative household-level approaches where (arguably) the biggest decarbonisation gains can be made. Also discussed will be the issue of unintended consequences and how to achieve a balance, ideally a win-win, between climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Professor David Butler FREng

Professor David Butler FREng

University of Exeter

14:55-15:10 Reducing emissions from wastewater treatment: recent innovations and future priorities

The commitment of the UK wastewater sector to carbon neutrality by 2030 has placed significant pressure on the sector to transition to a low-carbon wastewater management model. Wastewater treatment emissions, particularly nitrous oxide (N2O), contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and can account for up to 80% of the operational carbon footprint at treatment plants. Existing reporting practices in the UK (ie. Carbon Accounting Workbook) currently underestimate these emissions while the dissolved greenhouse gases (GHGs) alone could contribute to 30-70% of the carbon footprint of the sector and are currently not reported. Moreover, operational emissions are showing an increasing trend due to increasingly stricter discharge standards. Therefore, direct GHG emissions in wastewater pose the most significant challenge towards the decarbonization goals of the sector.

Over the past decade, real-field N2O monitoring across more than 90 systems has provided invaluable insights. These studies have revealed complex and site-specific pathways leading to N2O emissions. Despite advancements, significant knowledge gaps remain, particularly concerning the long-term dynamics of N2O formation in the field, while long-term N2O mitigation strategies have yet to be proved.

State-of-the-art emission monitoring and mitigation methodologies are emerging, with digitalization playing a transformative role. In this talk, case studies will be presented that showcase the potential of knowledge-based machine learning and data analytic in understanding and mitigating N2O emissions. Explainable algorithms translate data into actionable insights, linking N2O emissions to operational conditions and guiding mitigation strategies. These data-driven approaches can offer water professionals enhanced operational and environmental performance insights.

Navigating the next decade requires innovations in emission reduction, collaborative efforts across industry, academia, and government and the engineering community. The path forward emphasizes the importance of reducing emissions for environmental health and urges a collective effort, emphasizing continuous innovation. The UK water sector's ambitious roadmap to Net Zero by 2030 serves as a beacon, but achieving this goal necessitates a profound rethinking of current practices and a rapid embrace of emerging solutions.

Professor Evina Katsou

Professor Evina Katsou

Brunel University London

15:10-15:25 Moving to a Whole Life Carbon approach through innovation and collaboration

Traditional approaches to asset investment have often relied on a slightly siloed approach to assessing Capital and Operational carbon. These have also often been disconnected from cost and derived from different systems.

With funding from the Ofwat Innovation Fund, Anglian Water and the @One Alliance have delivered the Enabling Whole Life Carbon in Design project designed to accelerate the infrastructure sector towards a digitally integrated Whole Life Carbon approach.

This talk will explain how, alongside the digital tool and working with the new 2023 version of PAS2080, the project also developed a best practice approach to integrating whole life carbon into decision making and governance, as well as how to build organisational capacity through a suggested change management approach. The talk will also cover the project outcomes and learnings.

By making carbon and cost hotspots more visual to a range of stakeholders, it is envisaged that over the coming years carbon can be considered on parity with cost. With this a better understanding of the causal link will emerge, driving reduced whole life carbon investments.

Alex Herridge

Alex Herridge

Anglian Water and Skanska

15:25-15:45 Q&A and discussion session
Professor Evina Katsou

Professor Evina Katsou

Brunel University London

Maria Manidaki

Maria Manidaki

Mott MacDonald

Professor David Butler FREng

Professor David Butler FREng

University of Exeter

Alex Herridge

Alex Herridge

Anglian Water and Skanska

Chair

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Professor John Beddington CMG FRS, Government Office for Science, UK

16:15-17:25 Panel discussion
Professor Gideon Henderson FRS, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Gideon Henderson FRS, University of Oxford, UK

Mike Woolgar

Mike Woolgar

WSP in the UK

Professor Carolyn Roberts

Professor Carolyn Roberts

Gresham College London

Beth Corbould

Beth Corbould

Ofwat

Professor Tom Stephenson FREng

Professor Tom Stephenson FREng

Cranfield University and British Water

Chair

Dame Sue Ion GBE FREng FRS

Dame Sue Ion GBE FREng FRS

Chair of the Royal Society Science, Industry and Translation Committee