A narrow focus on costs is preventing the water sector from playing a valuable role in the decarbonisation of electricity, academics have warned.

The comments were made at the Low Carbon Networks and Innovation Conference hosted by the Energy Networks Association in Shropshire this week.

Imperial College London professor of energy systems Goran Strbac told delegates: “If you control and design water pumps slightly differently you could actually help the electricity system and the benefits would be bigger than the costs.

“But currently in the water industry they’ve got lots of pressure to do things at a minimum cost and it’s not linked yet to the electricity system.”

Phil Taylor, head of engineering at Newcastle University, agreed that the water sector could potentially make an important contribution to the power decarbonisation but is being prevented from doing so by price control regulations.

“Scottish Water have done some work, not looking necessarily at how to invest differently when they upgrade a plant, but just looking at the flexibility they’ve got in terms of time of use,” he explained.

“They can move their processes around so that they’re still delivering the water service that they need to deliver, but they’re doing it cognisant of what’s happening on the electricity networks and making sure that they’re not being a burden.”

He continued: “They did a lot of work there a few years ago and then they started to look at what Goran’s talking about but their regulator said to them: ‘No, you must stick to your core business. Your core business is being a water company. Don’t start straying outside that into thinking you’re an energy company.”

Taylor said regulation needs to be joined up across sectors.

Earlier this month, chancellor Philip Hammond commissioned a review of utility regulation which will examine the possibility of creating a single multi-utility regulator covering the electricity, gas and water sectors.