Are water and wastewater utilities energy hogs? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 3% of the national energy consumption, or approximately 56 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) is used for waste and wastewater services.
Faced with constantly increasing operating costs due to outdated equipment and increasing infrastructure demands, the water and wastewater industry is in search of cost-saving measures, and for many, a decrease in energy use is the primary target.
This comes as no surprise. Research shows that despite tight budgets, utilities spend about $4 billion per year on energy to pump, treat, deliver and collect water.
According to the EPA, the cost of running drinking water and wastewater systems can reach one-third of a municipality’s energy bill. Furthermore, the EPA estimates that if drinking water and wastewater systems reduced energy use by just 10% through cost-effective investments in energy efficiency, combined they would save about $400 million and 5 billion kWh annually. In addition, energy efficiency can also result in significant water savings.
Across the country, municipalities and facilities are encouraged to adopt technologies that not only meet environmental standards but also offer energy-efficient solutions. As a result, there are various programs, such as energy studies and capital incentives for installation of energy-efficient technology designed to assist facilities in making the right energy decisions.
For example, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority offers financial assistance to municipalities to install new equipment that will result in increased energy efficiency in their water and wastewater treatment facilities.
Echoing this trend is the development of new energy-efficient technologies. Today, various technologies, equipment and operating techniques are available to help water and wastewater facilities lower their energy costs. And the industry has responded.
Water & Wastes Digest, for example, has featured a number of case studies on how water and wastewater facilities facing major increases in energy costs have applied automation and instrumentation—variable frequency drives, programmable logic controllers, energy-efficient motors as well as heating and ventilation improvements—to reduce energy costs.
Although energy efficiency is clearly on the minds of water treatment professionals, in addition to promoting new energy-efficient technology and developing state programs to assist public water systems and wastewater treatment facilities to better manage their energy use, the industry must not underestimate the education factor.
While much is being done to promote the benefits of energy-efficient technologies, more importance should be placed on educating plant operators as to why implementing energy-efficient technologies are viable solutions to their overall cost challenges.
Energy-efficient improvements can be made by just about any water or wastewater facility, regardless of its size; however, the willingness of operators to learn about these new techniques and equipment will be required to achieve efficient energy use and yield substantial savings. Moreover, operators who are armed with this knowledge may be more effective in convincing those who hold the purse strings of the long-term benefits of energy-efficient upgrades.