As far as utilities goes Gas, Electric, Oil and telecommunications are more accessible and arguably more profitable than water. Water, both mains (drinking) and waste, is infrastructure heavy, historically a financial drain and a thankless task for national and regional governments /authorities. As ever increasing demands are placed on existing water infrastructure in the UK & Ireland, and EU governments are pushed towards the liberalisation of water supply, many stakeholders are looking at what improvements can be made. As many articles discuss mains (drinking) water issues I’m going to take the opportunity to look at wastewater.


Wastewater is an area that is under represented in news articles surrounding water infrastructure. In the UK 25-30% of mains water is lost between the mains water plant and end users; in Ireland this figure is around 38%. In Ireland water is about to be metered; the amount of water metered into the property is roughly what is being taken out. Clearly associated health hazards hopefully mean that significant percentages of wastewater is not lost between user and treatment plant.


This means existing wastewater pipelines are relatively well maintained. This is an unmoving cost; mains water although expensively treated is not a health hazard if leaked, wastewater is likely to be, dependant on source. So if no capital can be saved in the existing wastewater pipelines, capital costs must therefore be managed at the one variable in the (literal) pipeline – the waste water treatment plant itself.


In the US 1% of total electricity used annually is tied up in the movement and treatment of water. These processes are incredibly energy thirsty; waste water is marginally more energy thirsty than mains water, to treat, but for the sake of argument we will say that waste water uses 0.5% of a countries electricity. This is a staggeringly large amount of energy, energy that is increasingly expensive.


I spoke recently to a Yorkshire Water spokesman about their Esholt waste water plant. He described how factors that can reduce the cost of a wastewater plant, both in terms of total cost reduction and capital investment in existing infrastructure.


GMR Data - I understand that there is currently a new scheme to create a THP at Esholt to generate power to run the plant, with an aim is to be 100% self-sufficient by 2035. How wide spread will this be, will you be creating your own energy at every waste water production plant?

Yorkshire Water - No, it is neither technically nor economically feasible to do this at this stage, we have 600+ Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW); and many are too small for economies of scale to apply. We base our investment decisions on whole life cost; so this assessment is always open to review as technology costs and energy prices vary. This decision is also affected by other asset related decisions, including the type of the current assets installed, their age and condition, changing environmental standards, etc. However, most of our electricity use is at our larger sites, and these sites often do offer opportunities for energy generation. Our direction is to increase the amount of renewable energy we generate significantly, but it is unlikely in the short/medium term to include energy generation at every site.

GMR Data - How much does YW spend on electricity to run a plant the size of Esholt and how much would they aim to save by using their own energy?

Yorkshire Water - At Esholt we spend around £1.5m a year on energy. It is feasible to cut this cost to effectively zero at this site, although this is not something that could be simply replicated across every site.

GMR Data - Thames Water are including a wind turbine at their Crossness Sewage Treatment works as part of £220m upgrade. Is this something that YW has considered at any of their sites?

Yorkshire Water - We have wind turbines at a number of sites, including Hull WWTW. We would like to see more turbines, and have planning permission for a turbine at Knostrop WWTW (Leeds). Wind turbines are not, of course, suitable for every site, but they can be an appropriate part of the energy supply to water and waste water sites.

GMR Data - How does YW tackle the increasing amount of waste water due to population increase and are there any other waste water improvement projects in the pipeline?

Yorkshire Water - We have a regular 5 year investment programme agreed with our regulator (OFWAT). This includes for such factors as the introduction of new environmental standards, changes to population in the region, etc... This "periodic review process" is used across the industry in England and Wales.  It includes a 25 year strategic direction in the process.

This process looks at the whole cost of providing water and waste services, and is  designed to produce the lowest whole life cost for customers, subject to meeting the relevant environmental, safety and other standards that we are required to meet.


These energy savings can be routed straight back into infrastructure improvements offering a more robust service to residential, commercial and industrial water users.


For more information on GMR Data utilities / Water reports head to