The Global View

Utilities team up for a water-energy two-fer

Energy and water are linked in many ways, though we don’t always give much thought to the connections. A lot of water, for example, is used in producing electricity … whether it’s to provide cooling at nuclear power plants or to create steam to drive generators at a solar-thermal plant.

While most of us can’t control those kinds of water-energy systems, we can improve the efficiency of the water and energy systems in our homes. Heating water for showers and baths, for instances, takes energy, and the water heaters we use are often out-of-date and wasteful.

It’s with that kind of water-energy connection in mind that two utilities in the UK are teaming up in a unique partnership.

Thames Water and British Gas, the country’s largest water company and largest energy company, respectively, are kicking off a five-year joint effort to promote both energy- and water-saving products in customers’ homes. The program aims to offer some 2.3 million customers a number of efficiency improvements, including solar panels, heat pumps, energy-efficient water heaters, shower savers, dual-flush toilets and free installation of insulation.

Yes, there’s a certain amount of self-interest involved. British Gas, for example, will also check to see if water customers could cut their electricity bills by switching from another energy provider, which could mean new customers for British Gas. But the program also promises to deliver meaningful benefits to the public at large, especially considering the southeast part of the UK that it’s targeting is facing drought conditions.

London and other parts of the southeast have seen below-average rainfall in 17 of the past 22 months, and the drought  is predicted to continue into this coming summer. That means any actions that can help reduce household water consumption are well worth exploring.

“The link between energy and water is one that we all need to be mindful of, particularly with water in short supply in the southeast this year and with energy prices not set to go downwards over the long term,” said David Bland of the Consumer Council for Water. “For instance, often water in homes is heated up only to cool down then be re-heated again — a problem that can be addressed simply enough with a combination boiler.”

“About a third of all the energy we use in our homes goes on heating water, so if we save water we save money off two utility bills, not to mention burning less carbon,” added Piers Clark, commercial director for Thames Water. “It is this crucial overlap between energy and water efficiency that the partnership will help address.”