Although no-one can truly predict the future, we must develop long-term plans that can stand the test of time – especially because most of our existing assets and new investments will last for decades.
To help us understand what our customers may expect in the future, we have used a method known as "scenario planning" to develop a set of possible future scenarios for what the world may look like in the middle of this century.
This exercise found that the biggest challenges we are likely to face are climate change and our ageing infrastructure and asset base, while the greatest opportunities are in digital technology and innovation. At the same time, we will be adapting to the changes in Scotland’s population and growing number of households.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, living standards have fallen. Recent economic forecasts have downgraded the rate at which they may improve
Much of what we do, and the improvements that we make, are governed by law. For example, the Water Framework Directive and Priority Substances Directive aim to improve river and groundwater quality and reduce concentrations of chemicals in our rivers. It is not yet known how emerging threats to the environment, such as microplastics, will be managed or what further threats will arise. The Drinking Water Directive sets standards for water intended for human consumption, by ensuring that it is wholesome and clean. The directive is currently being reviewed and we are expecting both tighter and new standards to be included.
We will continue to work with our customers, regulators and the Scottish Government to shape a robust and appropriate regulatory framework that supports the Scottish Government’s objectives for growth and the circular economy, fostering a sustainable water industry.
Climate change is a global issue, the impact of which is intensifying. Predictions have suggested that Scotland will have hotter and, at times, drier summers as well as increasingly intense periods of rainfall. Current projections show that an increase in rainfall intensity of approximately 45% over the next 30 years would cause a 90-135% increase in water volume in our sewers. As our sewers were built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they will not always be able to cope with this increase.
2050 Climate change projections
2080 Climate change projections
Climate change may also cause changes in the quality of our source water, water shortages, flooding of our infrastructure, and knock-on effects on other infrastructure.
Scotland’s population will change over the next 25 years. Current forecasts suggest there will be a 5% growth in population, a general west to east migration, continued movement towards large towns and cities and a reduction in average household size due, in part, to an increasingly ageing population. Together these factors will lead to a significant increase in the number of properties to be served in certain locations. This will require significant investment to extend and upgrade our networks and infrastructure.
Source: National Records of Scotland 2016-based projections
Scotland’s national digital strategy aims to ensure the country realises its potential in an increasingly digital world. In future, our customers will expect to interact with us through their preferred digital channels. To achieve our ambitions, we will need to operate increasingly connected assets, relying heavily on improved data networks and levels of connectivity across Scotland.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence should allow us to make better decisions. However, we must also take steps to protect against potential threats, such as cyber-attacks.
Water is of fundamental importance to Scotland’s economy, health, social wellbeing and environment and we support the Scottish Government’s ‘Hydro Nation’ programme to develop the value of Scotland’s water resources. We will continue to use our water resources to generate renewable energy, and support Scotland’s ambition to create innovations that will shape our industry’s future.
Gorthleck Development Centre is Scotland’s first full scale test facility dedicated to supporting innovation in water treatment. It provides a safe environment to test new technologies in real life conditions.
According to the ecological footprint measure, Scotland needs approximately three planets to sustain its current living. An ambition to tackle climate change is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s aim to create a growing, sustainable and inclusive economy. Taking a more circular economy approach is fundamental to meeting this ambition. We recognise, therefore, that Scottish Water needs to do everything feasible to become more resource efficient.
We have taken significant steps to reduce our carbon footprint (by 24% over the past ten years) and increase the amount of renewable electricity that we generate. Today we generate and host more renewable electricity than we consume. We see even more opportunities to make us a truly sustainable service, including maximising the value we can recover from sewage and developing partnerships with communities. Further information is set out in our innovation report.
Scotland’s rich and diverse natural environment is a national asset which contributes to our economy and wellbeing. Scotland relies on its natural capital and, as a water company, we interact directly with the water environment across the entire range of water catchment types. From managing water sources in upland areas through to urban drainage and waste water recycling to rivers and seas, we rely on and work with the services provided by nature. We have a role to play to make sure this natural capital is protected and enhanced.