Recent research conducted by Utility Week association with low-code automation specialist Appian found that more than three quarters of utilities have introduced stretching targets for the decarbonisation of their own operations and asset bases since the UK made its 2050 net zero emissions commitment.
These measures have come in line with major strategic transformations which over 90% of utilities say have triggered or accelerated in the wake of the UK’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And on the whole, respondents to the research expressed optimism about achieving new decarbonisation targets in a timely manner.
This said, the confidence of industry leaders came with identification of several areas which could pose major barriers to progress on decarbonisation of assets, operations and supply chain operations if they are not addressed swiftly. Among these, a lack of robust data on environmental performance was a key concern, with 77% rating this as a potential blocker.
With these findings in mind, UW Innovate invited Richard Buckingham, climate change and carbon manager at Anglian Water, to share insights into the his company’s approach to establishing robust measurements for the especially challenging environmental performance area of capital carbon – a carbon dimensions utilities companies are yet to tackle in earnest – in a recent webinar (available to listen back to on demand here).
Buckingham also shed light on the robust digital environment Anglian has built to ensure its capital models can be integrated with more traditional asset performance data and operational information in a dashboard which can fuel iterative asset design processes with a balanced view of different asset investment, intervention and renewal decisions.
Following his case study presentation, Buckingham was joined by SGN’s head of information management and Appian’s VP industry solutions, Mike Heffner for a discussion of the key actions companies should take to start adding rigour to their environmental performance efforts, including investing in digitalisation of key information and processes.
Below are some insights from the session:
Reduce carbon, reduce cost
Anglian – which supplies water and water recycling services to almost seven million people in the East of England and Hartlepool – has created a raft of capital carbon models to inform asset and broader company strategy underpinned by the fundamental notion that reducing carbon reduces cost.
Buckingham explained that Anglian has been undertaking capital carbon reduction since 2015 and working towards a series of targets versus 2010 baselines. The firm targeted a 60% reduction versus a 2010 baseline in 2020, for example – achieving 61% – and is currently striving towards a 70% reduction in capital carbon by 2030.
He highlighted leadership, culture and working “hand in glove” with supply chain organisations as key enablers of Anglian’s efforts to drive down capital carbon.
As an example of intertwined carbon and cost reductions, Buckingham flagged Anglian’s Grafham Resilience project in 2017, which reduced carbon by 62% and cost by £32m – or 53%. It was subsequently a winner of British Construction Industry award for carbon reduction project of the year in 2017.
Hard work up front
Buckingham explained that Anglian had created approximately 1,400 carbon and water models to steer it’s company wide approach to assets – covering the carbon footprints of all the materials and plant groups commonly used in construction projects.
“It’s an extremely large dataset, which is periodically updated as new data becomes available,” he explained.
“We developed a host of models and the carbon model at the same time in order that this could then link to cost models and how we monitor,” he continued. “But the number of models has increased over time as things changed. There was a big programme of getting things up and running in the first place.”
According to Buckingham, the carbon and water modeller sees designers select materials and quantities used within designs before Anglian’s system returns associated carbon values for each – providing the basis for optimisation and reduction.
Information is then fed into an Appian-based system which provides summaries on operational and capital carbon. Each design stage provides opportunities for monitoring, approval and data extraction to analyse performance.
“It’s a very robust system to understand how designs are doing and how on an overall basis we’re performing,” Buckingham said.
According to Buckingham, one of the knock on effects of Anglian’s extensive approach is that the firm has been able to secure borrowings based upon its carbon performance and ambitions.
“As a consequence of our carbon ambition, we’ve been able to secure preferential rates thus achieving savings for the organisation,” he explained. “It’s all part of a green finance transformation.
“There’s a big advantage for organisations which are facing these issues in robust demonstrable ways,” he added. “I think that the finance community sees lower risk in investing in companies which are addressing these issues in a robust and coherent way”
Moving towards whole life carbon
Buckingham explained that the next steps for Anglian in its approach to capital carbon involve implementing further systems and oversight around whole life carbon – incorporating asset maintenance and end of life processes.
He split this into four phases, beginning with plans to build on Anglian Water’s existing carbon database to enable whole life carbon reporting and integrate the data with cost model and engineering platforms.
This would then involve creating a visual project environment through colour palettes to enable carbon and cost hot spotting to support design teams in unlocking further carbon and cost savings
Phase three would see the embedding of whole life carbon cost management into governance processes to support decision making facilitated by digitisation and visualisation, before finally sharing methodology and whole life carbon templates with the rest of the UK water industry and its wider value chain.
Data opportunity in other sectors
Gabrielle Barnard, SGN’s head of information management, explained that she saw a number of relevant touchpoints for gas utility distribution in Anglian Water’s capital carbon processes.
“Obviously in the sector I’m in we are absolutely looking to digitalisation and the transformation of our network in terms of our own journey around net zero and achieving those outcomes,” she said.
“That’s in terms of looking at new business models and transformation of what we do and how we do it, but also garnering insights that are generated through solutions, processes and technologies, and also that ability to innovate and collaborate with a number of players directly involved in the energy sector and beyond.”
Barnard added that SGN already has a number of teams looking at the future of gas on innovation projects seeking digital solutions and data to progress its work.
“Traditionally the role data has to play probably has more to do with management information, business information and reports both internally and externally – now we’ve got an opportunity to really start to examine the value that our data has to play,” she added.
“That is very much coming through these innovative products with sensors, machine learning, artificial intelligence and a lot to do with models, analytics, algorithms. That’s putting a lot more opportunity on our data, but also does bring about challenges in ensuring we’ve got robust and credible data.”
Creating data eco-systems
Mike Heffner, vice president of solutions and industry go to market at Appian, took encouragement from that the fact 91% of utilities quizzed in the firm’s survey are actively pursuing zero carbon approaches – describing it as “in its own right incredible”.
“But there also seems to be a great deal of anxiety around how do we get there and the realisation of how difficult this is going to be,” he added.
“I do agree that many of the challenges are going to be around data – it’s not about a singular system, it’s about the eco-system. It’s about the knowing and the doing, so being able to access information where it lives and bringing all of that together is really the challenge.
“I also see a second challenge,” he continued. “Once you have all of that information, you have the ability to monitor, what action will you enable, especially as things change over time. Our focus is very much on the unification of knowing and doing, and bringing those complexities into a unified platform.”
The webinar, Innovating for environmental outperformance, is available to listen back to on demand.
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