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The water industry shouldn’t be afraid to upgrade

01 March, 2022

Many UK water industry companies are still relying on legacy equipment that is decades old. James Thomas, ABB’s UK water industry manager, argues that they need to act quickly to take advantage of more efficient motor technologies if they are to hit their ambitious net-zero targets.

The UK water industry has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2030 – a full two decades earlier than the UK government’s own target of 2050. Achieving such an ambitious goal, combined with ever-increasing energy costs, is going to be a challenge for any industry. Indeed, as the water industry’s Net Zero 2030 Routemap sets out, radical new thinking and working practices will be required to drive down the industry’s energy and carbon contributions.

The water industry is highly regulated. AMP (Asset Management Period) cycles increasingly encourage the adoption of higher efficiency equipment, while Price Recovery 24 (PR24) and the Green Recovery Policy aim to reduce the of the industry’s carbon footprint.

Electric motors form the backbone of the myriad of pumps and fans that transport and treat the UK’s water, and account for 45% of all of the energy used by the industry. These motors are therefore prime candidates for efficiency improvements. Yet water companies are often unaware of how simple and easy it is to upgrade, as well as the benefits of doing so, both in terms of performance improvements and lower operating costs, as well as reducing carbon footprints significantly.

Users may also be surprised at just how far the technology has progressed within the past decade. Purchasing a new IE5 synchronous reluctance motor, for example, may have a higher upfront cost than repairing a decade-old IE2 motor. However the considerable difference in energy efficiencies will mean that the synchronous reluctance motor, combined with a drive, could easily recoup that investment within a matter of months through improved energy savings, with losses being 50% lower than an equivalent IE2 machine.

Furthermore, repairing an IE2 motor still leaves you with an IE2 level of efficiency. The performance of the motor could decrease with every repair, with the risk of failure growing as the motor ages, leading to a much higher Totex (capital expenditure + operational expenditure) cost than an equivalent new IE5 package.

The 2030 Net Zero Routemap requires a change in mindset over the coming decade, and yet the technology exists today to make a significant impact in emissions, almost overnight. With motors accounting for such a high proportion of energy usage, they are an excellent place to start in working towards meeting the industry’s sustainability obligations.  

If you have any questions, you can contact James Thomas at

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