United Utilities plans for Net Zero Carbon by 2030

Davyhulme wastewater treatment works in Trafford generates all of its electricity on site using engines powered by biomethane, a product of sewage treatment.

• More than 1 million trees will be planted
• North West’s water services to use 100% renewable electricity by 2021
• 100% green vehicle fleet by 2028
• 1,000 hectares of peat bog restoration by 2030

Today United Utilities has joined forces with the rest of the water industry to set out its plans to go Carbon neutral by the end of this decade.

Tree-planting, green vehicles and home-grown renewable power are all included in the ambitious plans for the North West.

Water UK’s Net Zero 2030 Routemap is 20 years ahead of the UK Government’s own legally binding target of 2050 and forms the world’s first detailed plan to get an entire industry sector to net zero.

For North West England the first milestone along the Routemap is 2021 when the water and wastewater service provision for all 7 million United Utilities customers will be powered by green energy.

Already up to 30 per cent of the electricity used by United Utilities is generated on its own sites through renewable schemes such as solar farms, wind turbines and the production of biomethane from sewage treatment. The company has been at the forefront of new technologies such as the floating solar arrays installed at Godley and Lancaster. From 2021 the rest of the company’s electricity will be bought from only renewable energy suppliers.

By 2028 all United Utilities’ 1,600 vehicles will run on electricity or alternative fuels such as hydrogen or biodiesel.

And by 2030 the company has pledged to improve its land holdings by planting more than 1 million new trees and restoring 1,000 hectares of internationally important peat bog.  The UK’s peat bogs are often compared by ecologists to equatorial rainforests in terms of their importance in capturing carbon. United Utilities began to re-wet and restore peat bogs some 15 years ago in the Trough of Bowland and the techniques are now in use across the company’s lands from Haweswater in the Lake District to Dove Stone in the South Pennines. United Utilities will continue to work alongside its partners such as Moors for the Future to keep up the momentum.

Chris Matthews is Head of Sustainability at United Utilities and he explained why the company was at the forefront of the UK’s drive to carbon neutrality: “Water companies, more than any other industry, are on the frontline of climate change. Every year we see the evidence of changing weather patterns with more frequent periods of drought, hot weather and extremes of heavy rainfall and flooding.

“It is absolutely right that we take the lead when it comes to cutting our own carbon emissions. But we can’t do this alone, and today we are calling on politicians, regulators and the supply chain to support our plans so that we can invest in the technologies and nature-based infrastructure we need to improve our environment at a cost that society can afford.” 

Case studies:

Davyhulme wastewater treatment works in Trafford generates all of its electricity on site using engines powered by biomethane, a product of sewage treatment. At 60 Gigawatt hours (GWh) per year, this would be enough power to supply 25,000 homes.

Lanthwaite reservoir at Lancaster has a floating solar array which generates 1MW of electricity, enough to power the nearby water treatment works. 

Preston wastewater treatment works is the first in the country to use an industrial-sized battery to store the power generated by the solar farm on the site. This means the plant can run round the clock on home-grown renewable energy.

Rivington in Lancashire is the site of a pilot scheme to grow oaks trees from acorns. 20,000 acorns were planted in October 2020, all collected from local oak trees, and they will help United Utilities to meet its target of planting more than 1 million new trees by 2030.

In 2020 United Utilities retained World Class Status in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the 13th year in succession.  United Utilities was also one of just 50 firms worldwide to feature in the Global Challenges Index (GCX) in recognition of its pioneering approach to seven global challenges: climate change, the provision of clean drinking water, deforestation, biodiversity, population development, poverty and global governance.