London’s desalination plant won’t be fired up even if official drought is declared

Posted: August 4, 2022 by oldbrew in Critique, Energy, Tides, weather
Tags: ,

Beckton desalination plant, London [image credit: Acciona]

Is the plant, which is supposed to run on renewable energy, deemed too expensive to operate except as a last resort, or are there other problems? Hosepipe bans are obviously a cheaper alternative.
– – –
London’s desalination plant won’t be fired up even if official drought is declared, says The Telegraph (via MSN).

It was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2010 and promised to be the saviour for thousands of Londoners in case of drought.

Twelve years later, its moment arrived during the driest July on record – but the desalination plant in Beckton, east London, was effectively mothballed with no clear date for its resurrection.

Thames Water has long touted the plant as one of its key measures to protect Londoners in case of drought, and it has been included in local authorities’ resilience plans.

But should an official drought be declared this year, the plant will not be fired up as it undergoes what the water company said was “necessary planned work”. There are now questions over whether it has ever been fully operational since it was built.

The water industry is already under pressure over its record on leaks, which amount to 2.4 billion litres a year, even as customers are asked to cut down to help the environment. It now faces more criticism that it is asking households to make up for its own failures.

In the absence of the Beckton plant, Thames Water will have to lean more heavily on households to reduce their consumption. It has already asked bill-payers to let their lawns go brown and their cars stay dirty ahead of an expected hosepipe ban in the capital.

“Bill-payers will rightly question what value for money they have seen from the significant investment in this plant,” said Karen Gibbs, of the Consumer Council for Water.

Industry insiders say Thames Water gambled on placing the facility on an estuary, where it hoped to cut operation costs because the seawater, mixed with freshwater from the Thames, would be less salty and therefore less difficult to process.

But the company failed to factor in that the water would be at different salinity levels at different times of day, rendering the plant unreliable for producing a steady supply of drinking water.

Even when the plant is up and running, it will be producing less drinking water than Thames had originally envisaged. The plant was originally intended to produce around 150 million litres of water a day – enough for 900,000 Londoners – but was forced to revise the estimate down by a third earlier this year.

“This adjustment was made on the basis of experience and to avoid creating unrealistic expectations about the output that could be achieved over a sustained period,” said a Thames Water spokesman.

The impetus for the east London plant had been the 2012 London Olympics, which prompted concerns that an influx of people during the hot summer months could be disastrous for the city’s water supplies.

But the initial plans proposed in 2004 were blocked by Ken Livingstone, then the London Labour mayor, who argued that the plant was unsustainable and unnecessary – despite the city being in one the most water-stressed parts of the country.

When Boris Johnson became mayor in 2008, the plant was given the green light – with construction completed two years later.

Thames Water had initially planned four more, but there is little sign of plans for a new plant.

It is an experience replicated recently in Hampshire, where Southern Water was forced to drop plans for a desalination plant last year. The area will be the first in the UK to come under a hosepipe ban, which begins on Friday.

The plant had been opposed by green groups, the environmentalist Chris Packham and Julian Lewis, the local Labour MP.

South East water, which became the second water company to bring in a hosepipe ban this week, has included potential mobile desalination plants in its long-term drought plans, but does not intend to introduce them this year.

The Thames Water saga is the latest in a long-running battle for Britain to develop the desalination technology common to hotter and drier countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

The technology, which converts briny water into drinking quality through reverse osmosis, will almost inevitably be needed in the UK as it faces a changing climate, said Martin Currie, who consulted on the project. “Eventually there probably will be more desalination plants, because that’s just the way it will go,” he added.

For water companies, the plants promise a solution to the increasing threat of drought without the need to resort to hosepipe bans and other restrictions. But getting them off the ground can be difficult, with opposition from green groups and politicians who object to the costs and huge energy consumption involved in the process.

“There are a few detailed schemes being proposed,” said Alistair Chisholm, of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management. “But they’re kind of a last resort.”

Critics argue that getting customers to reduce their water usage is a cheaper and greener way to tackle the UK’s looming water shortages. Regulators are also wary of giving the green light to projects over concerns that they may add to bill-payers’ costs.

Ofwat is understood to be looking into Thames Water’s management of the Beckton plant as questions were raised over whether it could have eased pressures this summer.

Full article here.

  1. […] London’s desalination plant won’t be fired up even if official drought is declared […]

  2. oldbrew says:

    Not sure about the ‘decreasing rainfall’ as a long-term trend, but anyway…

    Britain takes water for granted – and we’re heading towards a crisis

    Decreasing rainfall, rising temperatures, a growing population and leaky pipes are threatening to leave us parched
    28 July 2022

    But the problem isn’t a lack of rainfall. If you look at the UK’s annual levels of downpour since 1840, as listed on the Met Office website, you see no great change. The average rainfall per annum has, broadly speaking, remained between 900mm and 1200mm (35 to 47 inches). Comparing 1961–1990 with 1991–2020, we’ve actually seen rainfall increase by over 10 per cent annually.

    The problem is where and when it rains. More is falling in the winter and less in the summer, and the rain that does come is increasingly geographically focused. This is why some parts of Britain flood in winter while others face drought in summer.
    . . .
    The prospect of desalination is often raised too – we are, after all, an island – but the process of extracting salt from water is not only extraordinarily expensive but also subject to environmental criticisms.
    [bold added]

  3. Saighdear says:

    “was effectively mothballed….” when & by whom? and not a word was said.
    BTW it’s BUCKETING rain here AGAIN west of this place :

  4. oldbrew says:

    LBC claims: Water plant that could help stop hosepipe ban in face of drought shut down
    4 August 2022

    ‘A £250 million water plant built to protect thousands of Brits from drought has been switched off due to high running costs.’
    – – –
    They quote the Telegraph as their source but the ‘shut down’ part looks like their view of it. But if true, it seems the plant won’t be used unless or until energy prices fall quite a lot – or water supplies get desperate.
    = = =
    Meanwhile, ‘Dutch government declares water shortage’…

    And some rivers in France and Germany are getting too low for normal (industrial) usage, e.g. nuclear power plant cooling and barge cargoes.

  5. catweazle666 says:

    Sometime back in the 1970s – I believe it was the 1976 drought – Thames Water was as usual being criticised for losing enormous quantities to leakage, their excuse then was that the water mains had been damaged during the Blitz – I kid you not!
    Plus ça change!

  6. ilma630 says:

    You just cannot make up such stupidity. It must come naturally to them.

  7. oldbrew says:

    Join the dots…

    The UK has not built a new reservoir in 30 years.
    – – –
    The water industry was privatised in 1989.

  8. dennisambler says:

    “As regards the water supply, caught between increasing population, no increase in storage capacity and an entirely inadequate leakage control programme, it was entirely predictable that we were headed for problems – even without any effects attributable to climate change.

    To compensate for these deficiencies, therefore, the government sought to rely on a programme to encourage reduced per capita consumption (PCC), which the water industry was charged with implementing, at which it has so far spectacularly failed.

    This situation is not necessarily troublesome for the government. As long as it is able to transfer to consumers the responsibility for matching the (leakage depleted) supply with consumption, it gives the water industry its alibi for when shortages occur.

    What is especially useful to the industry is ministers effectively instructing them to impose restrictions, allowing them an escape by which means they seek to avoid the worst of the blame for running out of the commodity which they are paid to produce.”

  9. dennisambler says: 4th August 2022
    “Firefighters had to lay down sandbags as to protect homes after a water main burst and flooded streets in north London on Thursday morning. Emergency services were called to Willesden Lane, Kilburn at 4.46am.

    London Fire Brigade said the flooding affected several properties on nearby Cavendish Road and Mapesbury Road. Four residents were evacuated as two homes flooded with a metre of water.

    Photos show muddy water reaching the door of flats and flowing rapidly down the street as fire crews attempt to stop the deluge with makeshift wooden barricades and sandbags.

    Thames Water are also dealing with a burst water main in Crystal Palace Road, East Dulwich.” 18 July 2022

    “A burst water main has flooded streets in south-west London as temperatures soared across the UK.
    Around 70 firefighters and 10 fire engines responded to the scene on Galsworthy Road in Kingston upon Thames on Monday morning, alongside the police.

    Footage shared on social media shows flooding on several roads which have been closed nearby.

    Thames Water has said the broken 30-inch pipe does not supply homes so water should not be affected, adding that the conduit is a trunk main and not a sewage pipe as some witnesses claimed.”

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