BfG News Issue 20 - Expert View: technology innovation

20 May 2009|Added Value

Each month News invites an expert to give us their view on a topical issue.  Chris Matthews, Head of Environment and Sustainability, at United Utilities talks about one of the water efficient technologies they’re trialling.

A changing world poses new challenges for our company. As communities grow, so too does the demand for reliable supplies of water and energy. We all have a huge responsibility to future generations to protect and enhance the environment that provides the natural resources we need. Climate change is affecting us all, right here and now – carbon reduction needs to be hardwired into everything we do.

Technology innovation plays a key role in delivering sustainable, efficient and cost effective solutions to these challenges. We believe innovation needs to be at the very centre of our business strategy. United Utilities aims to be at the forefront of the water sector’s push to innovate. In order to achieve this goal it is crucial that water companies are properly incentivised and encouraged to innovate by our regulators and through the overall regulatory framework in which we operate.

We can’t deliver innovation on our own. That’s why we’re working with some of the smartest young minds from around the world as part of our knowledge transfer partnership scheme. We are also working with other organisations and companies committed to achieving excellence in innovation. It is only by working in partnership that we will be able to deliver innovative solutions to the environmental challenges we face today and in the future.

One innovation we’re trialing is water efficient showerheads. Around 20% of energy use in the home is associated with the heating of water. Reducing shower flow rates can save water and also reduce energy consumption; therefore reducing consumers’ bills and carbon emissions. During the next 20 years, water use associated with showers is expected to almost double. With high flow-rate ‘power showers’ growing in popularity, the water and energy use of showering can be greater than that of a bath. Obviously there are big implications for us. So between April 2006 and May 2008 we produced a ground-breaking body of research on low flow showerheads. The studies we have undertaken demonstrate the high water and energy savings that these devices can achieve, and show how their savings can be realised in an economic manner. Aerated showerhead technology was the most suitable for further study and offered homes in Warrington the chance to have a free ‘Visit and Fix’ household audit. 212 homes took up the chance to have at least one showerhead installed. Detailed meter readings followed so we could evaluate the volume of water saved.

Our studies show that you can save 38 litres of water per property per day, assuming an average of five minutes per shower. But it’s not just water we can save – there’s energy, carbon and money savings to factor in. We discovered that the energy used in the home to heat and pump water for personal use is around 7 – 10 times that used by water companies to supply water and dispose of wastewater.

We’re now partnering with the Environment Agency and a local housing provider to trial direct installation of showerheads in existing social housing. Overall we’re committed to helping make these showers a reality, but realise that the way forward is for us to collaborate with partner organisations and other companies.

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