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Water and Energy 2021...60 seconds with Keith Solts, Environment Agency and Ben Burggraaf, Welsh Water

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Water and Energy 2021: A Marriage of Convenience, Online, 15 April 2021
Water and Energy 2021: A Marriage of Convenience, Online, 15 April 2021

​Ahead of our Water and Energy 2021 online seminar, we caught up with Keith Solts, Technical Manager – Asset Standards and Engineering at the Environment Agency and Ben Burggraaf, Head of Energy at Welsh Water.

Keith and Ben explained their roles and involvement with regards to the seminar, critical industry challenges and why it is important for engineers to attend.

Q: Could you briefly explain your role and your experience within the water industry – in particular related to energy?

Keith Solts (KS): I am a chartered electrical engineer currently leading the Environment Agency M&E national asset standards and engineering team. I have been involved in the water industry for the last 35 years of my career, first as a consultant and now as client. My first experience of energy saving in the industry was in 1993, I published a paper on energy efficiency in effluent treatment. I was designer of an automated aeration process and assisted my client to save around 30% of their existing energy bill for the unit.

I am the technical lead for the Environment Agency in our net-zero carbon initiative. I sit on the project board and lead our research into energy generation and saving techniques and advise on implementation. I have been involved with EA corporate carbon saving projects since 2011 and we have seen our operational carbon emissions fall by around 40% in this period.

Ben Burggraaf (BB): As the Head of Energy for Welsh Water I have overall accountability for all aspects of energy and carbon management within the company, including energy purchasing, energy consumption reduction, operation and maintenance of renewable energy generation, and compliance to relevant energy and carbon regulations. I have been working in the water industry as an energy manager for over 5 years now; before that I worked as a combustion engineer and energy manager in the steel industry.

Q: What are the main engineering challenges to be addressed on the way to net-zero? 

KS: Our remit is to protect people and property from flooding under what are sometimes very challenging conditions. We will still need to use energy from grid to support our critical flood defence activities. Our challenge is offsetting the energy we use in construction and whole life operation of our assets.

Climate change is a great challenge, not just now but for future generations of engineers. How can we design our assets to be resilient to climate change and thus be future proofed so they will still be fit for purpose at the end of their asset life?

BB: The main engineering challenge on the way to net-zero is to lower life-cycle carbon emissions, whilst improving drinking water and effluent quality. New regulation and tighter water quality standards would traditionally mean more energy and chemical consumption and new assets, with the associated embedded footprint, to be built.

The journey to net-zero is forcing the water industry to rethink the way water and sewage is treated and work collaboratively with other industries and stakeholders. The latter will mean, for example, that wastewater treatment works will transform into bio-refineries, where the organic carbon recovered from the sewage sludge is a valuable commodity, rather than a waste product.

Q: What will you be focusing on in your presentation?

KS: Attendees will be more aware of the challenges the Environment Agency have faced in reducing our carbon emissions and some of the solutions we have implemented.

BB: The presentation will be outlining Welsh Water’s ambition to be fully carbon neutral (or better) by 2040 and make a 90% reduction in emissions by 2030, compared to its 2010/2011 baseline (scope includes embedded emissions from our capital investment program). In the last 10 years, Welsh Water reduced its carbon emissions by 65% compared to the same 2010/11 baseline. It did this by making significant investment in renewable energy generation and procuring REGO backed wind power for its electricity supplier (of which 20% is sourced from Wales). With Welsh Water’s electricity consumption fully decarbonised (market based) and its natural gas 100% green (due to its Gas-to-Grid facility at Five Fords), the focus on decarbonisation has shifted from energy to other emissions sources like fugitive emissions from wastewater treatment and the embedded carbon within our capital carbon. Decarbonising the latter two emissions sources fully by 2030 and even 2040, will be a challenge and as such there is a continued need to “offset” these emissions by making better use of biogas to decarbonise heat and transport, and making better use of the land that is available to sequester carbon.

Q: Are there any other speakers you are particularly interested in hearing from and if so why?

KS: I am particularly interested in hydro power and the role of green hydrogen in the decarbonisation of our assets. Hydrogen appears to have significant potential and with the proximity of water to all of our assets we are keen to exploit this technology if we can.

BB: I’m particularly interested to hear from speakers that work on the periphery or outside the water industry, to gain different perspectives on the net-zero carbon journey. In order to succeed the water industry needs to step out of its comfort zone; collaborate more with companies, regulators, and other organisations; and become less insular.

Q: What innovations and opportunities are you most interested in for the future?

KS: We have very large energy requirements at a significant number of our pumping stations and if we are to achieve our net zero, and ultimately zero carbon, we need to implement high capacity storage systems. These are impractical for us currently, but technology is almost driven to a point where we can embrace this as an operational solution.

In addition we are always looking at innovation in the pump industry to improve our pump efficiency and reduce asset energy demand as we move water.

BB: Beyond 2030, the carbon footprint of the water industry will be more and more decoupled from its energy consumption, whilst the electricity grid continues to decarbonise, and the decarbonisation of heat & transport gains more momentum. Efficient use of resources (water, organic carbon, phosphate, etc.), which include its landholdings, will become vital to meet carbon neutrality or better, when one in includes embodied carbon into the mix.

Q: Why is it important for engineers to come together at this seminar?

KS: Net zero carbon for the UK is a big challenge for engineers in the water industry. Collective minds are better than single minds in solving problems and sharing knowledge and best practice is invaluable.

BB: The marriage between water and energy, is currently one where energy is serving water, at the expense of energy. To deliver a sustainable water industry that actively contributes to the delivery of net zero, it will need different engineering solutions that brings the balance back within this marriage, i.e. water and energy serving each other, in harmony with their wider environment. Engineers will play a vital part in delivering this vision and it needs engineers from outside the industry to bring new, fresh ideas and transfer technologies.

Water and Energy 2021: A Marriage of Convenience will be taking place live online on 15 April 2021.

Join this seminar to:

  • Improve the integration and performance of generating equipment embedded into water infrastructure
  • Gain insight into technologies such as energy storage in order to optimise their power generation and usage
  • Hear from key stakeholders to better understand and meet regulatory or legislative targets
  • Learn more about different technologies and systems to deploy which can reduce energy costs and improve environmental performance

To book your place, please visit www.imeche.org/waterandenergy.

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