Peter Simpson: ‘Now is the time to unlock action on net zero’

As part of our Countdown to COP campaign, we speak to Anglian Water chief executive Peter Simpson. He discusses the need to capitalise on government's green ambitions, particularly through price controls; the value of co-operation in regional net-zero infrastructure projects and how to convince customers to think twice before they put the kettle on.

What opportunities does COP26 represent for the utilities sector, and how can we capitalise on them?

Hosting COP26 in the UK will give us a unique opportunity to really focus on the challenges we face from a changing climate and growing population.  These challenges are felt nowhere more keenly then in the East of England, and we know that being part of the event will provide a platform to really drive collaboration and share learning on how we can achieve our industry goals of achieving net zero carbon by 2030, and more specifically for Anglian Water – make the East of England resilient to the impacts of drought and flooding.

What does the UK need to achieve in the next nine months to present itself as a world leader in tackling climate change? What role can utilities play in that?

Firstly, the government’s 10-point plan has made a huge difference by introducing efforts across the economy to raise the ambition of climate action and set some world- leading aspirations. The new policies and ambitions will enable us to unlock action across the economy.  For example, the modernising of UK homes to be more energy and water efficient.

From a policy point of view we’d like to see a comprehensive strategy to achieve the Climate Change Act’s legally-binding target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And the Environment Bill receiving Royal Assent, with comprehensive new policies in place to tackle water, biodiversity and flood risk management challenges through the adoption and delivery of new local environmental improvement plans.

Where do you see further opportunities for pan-utilities co-operation on the path to decarbonisation?

We recognise the major role we play in the regional and UK economy, and working in a sustainable way is simply how we do businesses. There’s a real opportunity for joint planning  and delivery of net zero infrastructure in areas of strong growth, like the Cam-Ox Arc. This kind of collaboration goes beyond the provision of vital services to ensuring we meet biodiversity net gain requirements, as well as creating robust markets for carbon sequestration and other environmental credits.

Working with other utilities involved in supporting growth in an area which is identified as a key economic priority for the country is vital for the long term social and environmental prosperity of our region.

What is your principle ask of government and/or regulators to unlock the sector’s potential to accelerate the green transition?

Place the net zero and nature recovery challenge at the heart of the next price review, to allow water companies and other utilities the long-term investment needed to meet these societal as well as environmental challenges.

How can utilities help to encourage all consumers to be more active participants in the net-zero journey?

We need to encourage much greater awareness and conservation of water through smart metering rollout programmes and behaviour change initiatives. Heating water is one of the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Saving water saves energy and will save customers money and reduce our energy costs and carbon footprint at the same time. It’s a win for customers and the environment.