Reflections on water

As Whitbread announces that it’s the first hospitality multinational to be granted a self-supply licence, MBS considers the implications of a focus on water for building services

From April 2017, more than 1.2 million eligible businesses and public sector organisations have been able to choose who supplies their water (and wastewater) retail services. It may not seem at first glance to be such a significant matter – simply a case of yet another choice to make along with your suppliers of power and broadband.

The water market will work in a similar way to the other utilities. Wholesalers provide water and wastewater services to retailers, who then sell these services on to business customers. The idea is that retailers compete with each other to offer customers the best deals. Businesses (and other ‘non-households’) using more than 5 million litres of water a year have been able to select their water supplier since 2011. Now, the market is much bigger.

This opening of the market for water supply for business customers is intended to have a major impact. Government estimated that the retail business market would add £200 million to the UK economy. Other projected benefits include improved water efficiency, greater innovation, better customer service and lower prices.

It is too early to tell if this vision of success will be realised. However, Whitbread is now its own water and wastewater supplier, and other businesses in England and Scotland are in the process of applying for the same status. This shows that some organisations are diving into the water market with enthusiasm.

The building services sector has spent many years focused on energy use and carbon reduction. Water conservation has been moving up the agenda, and it looks as though the open water market may well give a boost to its importance. There is certainly room for improvement in commercial water use. Even though water use is dependent on type of business, Envirowise estimates that adopting a systematic approach to water management could cut water use by 30% for most businesses.

With businesses operating as their own suppliers, and constantly looking for the best deals from suppliers if they’re not self-supplying, the focus on more efficient use of this precious resource will inevitably be high. And as with energy use, the role of building services in attaining efficiency is crucial. Effective pipework design; sizing and specification of pumps; domestic hot water system design – all of these need to be considered carefully (as MBS features this month demonstrate very clearly). There are also other options that building services professionals can recommend and implement, such as on-site water recycling.

The open water market looks like an opportunity for building services to demonstrate what it can offer in terms of efficient products, metering, control and good design. Time will tell how building owners and managers will respond.

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