According to an industry regulator, water companies should be allowed to sell fertiliser and energy generated by human sewage (often processed to “sludge”), potentially reducing the cost of customer’s household bills, reduce waste and help the environment.
Sludge is a waste product of the water-treatment process, consisting of processed human sewage, which can be used to create natural gas and fertiliser if managed correctly.
The intention by industry regulator Ofwat is to remove “regulatory red tape to open up the market for sludge and encourage innovation,” allowing companies to use the sludge for electricity generation which they could sell back to the grid or use in-house, and use the remaining solids as fertiliser to sell to the agriculture industry.
Ofwat went on to say “The savings made would keep bills down and help meet our energy needs sustainably.”
Some sludge is already being used for this purpose, but Ofwat believes too little information is being published to allow buyers to make informed decisions on the sludge, so few agencies attempt to deal with it.
If this information was made publically available, as the regulators recommend, then details like location, volume, treatment level and age of the waste could be accurately broadcast, letting businesses make less risky decisions and open up the market for sludge.
The proposal is part of a set of reforms aimed at the water treatment industry, which are planned to save water and money for the companies, and help them make better use of their recyclable waste and other resources.
The regulator also intends to open up a new market for water trading, which is the practice whereby water is moved, usually by way of rivers and aquifers from areas of plenty to areas of scarcity.
In line with the reforms, water companies would be legally required to share more information regarding their water supplies and pipelines, to provide a better picture of areas where water is scarce and where it is available in excess. As a result of this transparency, water companies would be able to work together to buy and sell their water supplies across the country.
The regulators may also order water companies to switch from the retail price index to the consumer price index, meaning their bills will increase by less each year. As a result, all going well, the environment will wind up healthier, water will be more available, and customer wallets will be fuller!