The Scottish water sector and government have launched a new collaborative workstream aimed at accelerating the transition to net-zero and maximising the positive social outcomes of the transition.

Launched to coincide with World Water Day, the Hydro Nation Chair Research and Innovation Programme is convening academics, the water industry, policymakers and local communities to develop and implement innovative technologies that will cut emissions.

The scheme is named after the Scottish Government’s ‘Hydro Nation’ strategies, which have been developed since 2012 in a bid to ensure good water resource management.

Four research areas have been selected as focus points for the initiative, namely low-carbon infrastructure; low-carbon processes; restoring the natural environment and shifting to a circular economy. Low-carbon processes will be the first topic covered.

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian University, Heriot-Watt University and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology will lead these research streams. Meanwhile, innovation fellows at the University of Stirling will link the research with industry, informing water companies of progress and helping them to implement and scale solutions to assess which ones are commercially viable. The work between the innovation fellows and industry will also be the channel through which communities are involved.

Scottish Water is funding the programme. Its first event will begin on 18 April.

“We are already feeling the effects of climate change through water, in flooding and drought, yet water also holds many of the solutions we need,” said the chair of the Scotland Hydro Nation programme, Professor Andrew Tyler.

“How we manage Scotland’s seas, lochs, rivers and reservoirs can bolster our resilience to extreme events, restore biodiversity and increase our carbon storage – speeding up our journey to net zero.

“Water can also help us manage our resources better, allowing us to recover energy for example, contributing to a greener, more circular economy whilst creating jobs. But for this to happen, industry, research and communities must work together.”

Scottish Water’s head of research and innovation George Ponton said the programme should “bring the transformative change needed” for the sector to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. The Scottish Government is notably working towards a 2045 net-zero target – five years earlier than the rest of the UK. The statement issued to announce the launch of the programme today states that the water sector will seek to go ‘beyond’ net-zero by 2040, sequestering and otherwise reducing more emissions than it generates.

It bears noting that the UK’s nine largest water and sewerage providers – none of which are based in Scotland – are working towards a joint net-zero by 2030 roadmap that was first published in August 2019.