More than just a meter

Guest blog by Southern Water on Using Water Wisely & Pricing it Fairly

Between now and September 2018, water companies in England and Wales will be drawing up plans for their investments between 2020 to 2025. Companies are required to produce these plans for the Periodic Review 2019 (PR19), and Blueprint believes that nature should be at the heart of these plans.

In 2010, Southern Water began its journey to universal metering. First, we made the case on the grounds of resource – the need to cut demand to help secure supplies in our water–stressed region. Next came the economic case – it’s cheaper to meter everyone together as part of a well-planned, five-year programme, than to wait for individual customers to move house or put in ad hoc requests to have a meter installed. Then, we started on the customer case – it’s fairer to pay only for what you use, and meters can help you to save money.  Surely, that’s all there would be to it?

Well, it turned out that there was quite a lot more. From day one, we knew that our programme would be in the limelight. We were the first company to tackle this on such a large scale. Nearly half a million meters would need to be installed within five years, across the counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire where, incidentally, six other water companies also operate. It was a first for all of us – Southern Water, Ofwat, the Consumer Council for Water and our customers – and it was our customers who helped drive the programme.

As you would probably expect from a company made up largely of engineers, our first thoughts turned to how we were going to physically get the meters in the ground. But, by putting customers at the centre of our thinking, we began to look at the programme as a unique opportunity to engage with people about our service, rather than as a problem to be overcome.

We began by involving our customers in our decisions about the route we would take. We consulted with them on everything, from the way in which meters were fitted, to the timing and tone of the information we gave them, to the support we offered to those who might struggle to pay their bills. We gathered and analysed a range of data sources to help us target those most likely to find it difficult to make the change, and used this to develop a package of support for customers who needed it most.

The programme also empowered customers to take control of their water use. Our “Green Doctors” visited around 60,000 homes over the five-year period to carry out water and energy audits, and help customers make the jump from being a passive consumer to an active participant in the service they received. The results exceeded all our expectations. Our customers now use around 16% less water than at the start of the programme. This means that more precious water remains in the environment.

The reality is that it’s not just been about the meter, or using water wisely and pricing it fairly. It’s been about increasing resilience – our ability to strengthen our business so we can protect our services from future challenges, such as climate change and population growth. Metering has been the catalyst for starting a different conversation with our customers and has given us a platform for involving them in our long-term plans.

Our programme came before the big shift towards customer engagement that came with the PR14 price review. But for us, it was an important part of that journey and demonstrated just how much can be achieved when you involve customers in your plans and give them a chance to think about the future.

Penny Hodge
Head of Policy and Stakeholder Engagement, Southern Water

 

What has water efficiency ever done for us – and what could it do…?

Between now and September 2018, water companies in England and Wales will be drawing up plans for their investments between 2020 to 2025. Companies are required to produce these plans for the Periodic Review 2019 (PR19), and we believe nature should be at the heart of these plans.

These PR19 plans are crucial to deliver for both customers and the environment. Blueprint has a number of priorities for these plans, one of which is water efficiency.

Why should we waste less water?

It’s officially been a dry winter in parts of England, and some water companies are looking particularly closely at their recharge possibilities for the summer. The impacts of drought on the economy, people and the environment are severe – and last year’s Water UK report set out that future droughts will be more severe, and will impact all parts of the country.

Wasting less water clearly has a huge role to play in tackling this. The less water we waste, the more there is to go round – and there are more of us using it all the time, and using it in different ways, too. Water companies are doing great work with their customers on water efficiency – including offering them visits to make their toilets and showers more water-efficient, as well as advice on how to waste less, and in some cases linking this to frequent smart meter readings to their phones. But, these programmes are still a drop in the ocean in terms of overall water company investment in England and Wales.

Does water efficiency actually help customers and the environment?

Customers are expecting a better service from their water companies now. Lots of us live our lives through apps these days, and we also expect a tailored service, building on what we ask for and what the companies we use regularly know about us. However, Ofwat has said that too many water customers are receiving an analogue service in a digital age.

Customers should be at the heart of the water sector, and engaging with them on water efficiency is a great way for water companies to make this happen. Unlike with energy, when we’re using water, we can see and feel (and drink) it – and it’s this feeling we have around water, and its importance to our own families and communities, that companies should be tapping into.

We also know from companies’ own research that customers care about the environment in its own right – and not just for the water and wastewater services it provides them. So water companies across England should be working with all their customers on water efficiency, now and in the future, and not just during drought. It doesn’t just help with resilience, it also helps with other things customer care about – the environment, and better customer service.

What do we want? More water efficiency! When do we want it? Now!

The Blueprint for Water coalition is challenging water companies to increase their ambition on water efficiency – building on their great work to date. We’re asking them to:

  • significantly scale up their demand management programmes – this means water efficiency, leakage and metering
  • increase the overall metering of households, as well as the proportion of smart meters
  • ensure a ‘water neutral PR19’ – with no overall increase in the amount of water abstracted from rivers and groundwater, despite population growth and climate change
  • set out ambitious plans to help customers and communities reduce use at ‘peak’ times and in catchments most at risk from abstraction
  • increase the availability, promotion and take-up of tariffs and retrofit programmes (sending trained staff in to make bathrooms and kitchens more water efficient) – different ways of paying for what we use, including to waste less water and protect customers struggling to pay.

Perfect opportunity for water efficiency to improve resilience and customer service

The step change set out by Blueprint would directly contribute to Ofwat’s four themes for the 2019 price review – resilience, customer service, innovation and affordability. And the UK Government has made it clear, through their draft Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat, that they want to see more water efficiency and better customer service.

We know the industry is taking resilience seriously. Blueprint is asking them to significantly step up their ambition on water efficiency to help them to drive increased resilience – and an improved relationship with their customers. We’re also asking their customer challenge groups to report to Ofwat on how they’ve done this, and for company Boards to actively report against these and the rest of the Blueprint manifesto for PR19 in business plans. As Cathryn Ross, Ofwat Chief Executive has said – water efficiency is a key strategic issue, not a dry supply-demand one, and should be on every water company Board agenda.

Nicci Russell
Managing Director, Waterwise

Taking Action to Save Water

Do we need water saving week?

Water is often overlooked – we take it for granted. Consistently high quality drinking water supply, combined with tiny water bills compared to the cost of energy and the apparent abundance of water falling from the sky, mean that conserving water is not high on the agenda of many people in the UK. Despite this, around 70% of people do take some action to save water (Waterwise, 2016).

Water saving week 2017 commences on the 20th March. It is growing in popularity since it was initiated three years ago by Waterwise, one of Blueprint’s members.

 

Whilst we at Waterwise are dedicated full time to saving water and promoting water efficiency, water saving week is an opportunity for people from all walks of life to take on the challenge of saving water and become more aware of the need to save water.

Do we really need to save water in the UK?

Yes!

The UK has less available water per person than most other European countries. Increasingly erratic weather patterns, population increases and lifestyle changes have generated huge pressure on water supplies. As a result, it is more important than ever that we take care with how we use water. Taking positive action now can help to ensure that there is enough water to go round, for us, for businesses and for the environment. To compound this, because people perceive the UK as a wet area, there is not a water saving culture!

Water must also be conserved as part of wider efforts to protect the environment. Heating water in your home can account for up to 25% of your energy bill. Additionally, substantial amounts of energy is required for treating water and wastewater.

If saving water is important, why only do it for one week a year?

As much as we want to achieve our mission of people using water wisely, everywhere and everyday, we realise that at present, saving water may not be something people think about or recognise the need for, let alone have the motivation to do. Water saving week is a time to get the whole country talking about water efficiency.

Check out the website for more information, and to download packs with lots of useful resources for each day of the week.

Hazel Lewis
Specialist Project Developer, Waterwise