Thames Water should be focusing on its ‘illegal’ sewage spills not powering homes with poo, campaigners say

Henley Mermaids said “novel” ideas are “great” but Thames Water needs to prioritise fixing its “crumbling and inadequate” sewers

Thames Water has been slammed by sewage campaigners after the firm’s CEO, Cathryn Ross, said there is an “exciting potential” to use poo to power homes across London.

The Henley Mermaids, a campaign group made up of five middle-aged women who share a passion for river swimming, told NationalWorld that the water company should be “focusing on investing in its own crumbling and inadequate sewerage infrastructure to end illegal sewage dumping” not powering homes using sewage.

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The group said that it is “great to hear novel ideas about using sewage to power homes” but we are “a very long way away” from that.

Earlier this month, a BBC investigation found that Thames Water was one of three water companies that had released sewage illegally during dry weather - in breach of their permits. It dry-spilled for 1,253 hours in 2022 at 49 overflow sites.

Henley Mermaids said “urgent investment in infrastructure and a complete restructure” is what is “needed” to “ensure the company serves people and our natural environment rather than the interests of shareholders.”

Previously, Mermaid and Green councillor Jo Robb, said that there are reports “every week” of “children being sick from paddling in the River Thames.

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Focus on ‘illegal’ sewage spills not using poo to heat homes, campaigners say. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock/Henley Mermaids) Focus on ‘illegal’ sewage spills not using poo to heat homes, campaigners say. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock/Henley Mermaids)
Focus on ‘illegal’ sewage spills not using poo to heat homes, campaigners say. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock/Henley Mermaids) | NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock/Henley Mermaids

She added: “This is Britain, a G7 economy in 2023 and children can’t paddle in our rivers in a heatwave without being sick from sewage. It’s a total disgrace.”

Ross told London Assembly members yesterday (Wednesday 13 September) that using sewage to generate heat is an “untapped resource” and the technology “is actually quite simple”.

She said: “All you’re doing is using the fact that effluent is relatively warm because of where it comes from – you put a heat inverter around the sewer pipe and you can extract the heat from that.”

She added that the technology was at a “fairly early stage” but Thames Water Ventures company was working on it.

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It comes after the company announced in February 2021 a ‘poo power’ scheme to heat more than 2,000 homes in the London borough Kingston.

At the time Thames Water said it is “the first of its kind in England” to reduce carbon emissions.

The water company wrote at the time in a statement: “Under the plans, heat recovered from the final effluent of the sewage treatment process at Hogsmill will be captured before water is returned to the river, concentrated and supplied to local buildings from a state-of-the-art energy centre to be built on site.

“If successful, up to seven gigawatt hours of low carbon heat per year could be supplied via a sealed network of pipes to the district heating system at the new Cambridge Road Estate. The aim will then be to expand the network to include public and commercial buildings in Kingston town centre.”

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A Thames Water spokesperson told NationalWorld that renewable heat from its sewer network is a “fantastic resource” so it is “vital” that the water company “unlocks the full potential of ‘poo power’.”

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