Turning the tide on the UK’s water challenges

  • Posted on November 8, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

Water companies across the UK are under immense pressure to reduce domestic water consumption. Climate change and the more extreme weather that accompanies it, combined with an ever-increasing population is putting extreme pressure on this precious resource.

Most of us underestimate how much water we use in our homes on a daily basis and the energy that water companies need to treat and pump water into homes. Scottish Water, for example, is the largest user of electricity in Scotland.

The water industry is the fourth most emissions intensive industry in the UK. 1% of UK carbon emissions comes direct from the operations of water companies – abstracting, treating and pumping water to us – then removing it, treating it and putting it back into the environment.

That is why the sector has stringent targets for drastically reducing its carbon emissions by 10 million tonnes to reach net zero – attaining a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.

Whilst there’s no single solution to achieving net zero, one of the targets that water companies have been set is to further reduce domestic customer’s water consumption by six litres per person, per day.

The problem is, for too long water has been a low interest/low engagement commodity purchase. Suppliers have been able to rely on certain levels of customer inertia, but the tides have turned. If water companies are going to meet their targets, then improving and increasing customer engagement is a critical next step.

The customer awareness gap
One of the biggest challenges water companies face is the fact that domestic consumers aren’t aware of their own water consumption. 50 litres is considered the daily minimum to meet basic human needs, but on average we’re currently using 145-150 litres per person per day. A single bath uses between 50-100 litres and a standard dishwasher uses 9.5 litres per wash. The problem is that half the population thinks it only uses around 20 litres a day.

Water companies are ultimately responsible for planning for and managing water supply to meet the needs of customers. More needs to be done to raise public awareness about water consumption and using water more efficiently.

The good news is public concern for climate change is at an all-time high. The majority of people report that they have become worried about the climate emergency in recent years.

According to the Energy Saving Trust’s ‘Energy and Sustainability Report’, of those people who have heard about net zero, 88% agree it is essential for the UK to reach its net zero target. On the flip side however, only 28% of people feel that they have a positive influence in helping the UK reach net zero.

This is where improving and increasing customer engagement will play an important part.

The importance of customer engagement
The onus is on water companies to help educate and advise their customers on their water consumption, as well as measures and solutions to reduce it. This requires quality and timely customer engagement. But understanding a household’s consumption and providing tailored and personalised communications, as well as appropriate product and service offerings also requires suppliers to improve their understanding of individual customers and households – and that requires data!

Increasing the speed of the roll-out of smart meters will be critical to meeting this challenge. Water savings as high as 17% have been achieved when people get metered – which could reduce total UK emissions by around 1%.

The high-resolution data relating to a household’s water-use can be harnessed and analysed to allow far richer, tailored and personalised conversations between water suppliers and customers around water saving.

It can also be used to improve customer service and the resolution of leaks and pollution events, as well as planning for water shortages and Temporary Use Bans (TUBs) – all of which are essential to reducing the amount of water being processed, used and wasted.

Water may be one of the planet’s most precious resources, but when it comes to protecting it, data is going to hold the key.

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