Season 5, Post 12: After you flush…
We all do it several times a day, but how many of us spare a thought for what happens to our wastewater once it’s been flushed away, let alone whether technology can make this process more efficient. Your intrepid author sought to discover the answers to these questions and more when he visited a major water treatment plant in the UK earlier this week.
Mogden, a stone’s throw away from Twickenham Stadium, is Thames Water’s third largest treatment works. It was built between 1931 and 1935 and now covers an area of over 50 hectares (150 acres). The water from 2.2m toilets in the north and west London area finds its way to Mogden, where it is treated. The quite remarkable figure of around 6,000 litres of water go through the site each second of the day. To see is to behold. Our small group spent an hour walking around Mogden’s 80+ tanks and 20+ aerators and saw barely a quarter of the site.
Pumps and filters inevitably do much of the heavy lifting but we were also told how “technology can make a huge difference.” To this end, Thames Water and its peers are increasingly investing in predictive maintenance and monitoring systems, which are able to analyse variations in water quality, identify potential faults in equipment and so on. At the other end of the spectrum, consumers are increasingly being encouraged to adopt smart water meters. Our host described how water was “becoming a big data exercise.” We concur. Better inputs lead to better outputs.
We have argued for some time that the potential for the water industry – like all others – to digitalise is significant. Fewer than 10% of all UK households currently have meters, according to Thames. Part of the problem is that utilities tend to be risk averse. Although Thames Water can be seen as a relative early mover, one speaker at our event noted that the pace technology adoption on the part of water utilities was “like walking through treacle.” Regulators are seeking to up digital deployment – a cornerstone of the next set of regulatory obligations in the UK, for example, due to be implemented from 2025 – but simple supply-demand imbalances will also drive the agenda. The best way to solve water shortages is through better (and safer) supply.
29 March 2023
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
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Alex Gunz, Fund Manager
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