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Sustainability and efficiency of the water sector: challenges and opportunities

  • Sustainability and efficiency of the water sector: challenges and opportunities
    Photo: Pixabay
  • Author: Jokin Larrauri, Global Vice President of Sales and Business Development, Water Segment at Schneider Electric.

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Schneider Electric
Schneider Electric is leading the Digital Transformation of Energy Management and Automation in Homes, Buildings, Data Centers, Infrastructure and Industries.


It is foreseen that in 2030 we will face a global deficit of 40% of water in an identical climate scenario or even worse than the current one. If we look in the longer term, according to the International Energy Agency, by 2050 global energy consumption will increase by up to 50% due to urbanization, industrialization and digitalization. From the water sector, we must respond to this reality in order to be more efficient and sustainable.

Our sector consumes 4% of electricity worldwide, we also have infrastructures that were designed to respond in the most unfavorable scenarios and do not always operate at their optimum efficiency point. If we look at one of our biggest operating costs, electricity, the savings potential is very significant. By reducing energy expenditure we will achieve greater synergies; we will save part of the capital invested to reuse it in the improvement of infrastructures.

In parallel, more and more companies are facing financial and social pressures that force them to introduce sustainable water operations in their business. Organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) or the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) are demanding that companies demonstrate corporate water management and promote the responsible use of water resources.

The sector has a double challenge in the face of climate change. On the one hand, to be more efficient by reducing its energy consumption and prioritizing the use of clean energies, contributing to the reduction of emissions. And, on the other, encourage a more efficient use of water both in the agricultural sector, current consumer of 70% of water worldwide; as in the urban water cycle with public awareness campaigns or leakage management among others.

The water industry in the face of climate change

From the perspective of water cycle management, we can carry out different actions that help to face climate change by emitting less CO₂ and being more efficient. To begin with, it is important to focus on one of the biggest operating costs of the water industry: energy consumption. In a wastewater treatment plant, 34% of operating expenses goes directly to electricity consumption, a percentage that increases to 57% in the case of a reverse osmosis desalination plant. It is key to reduce this number in order to release capital that serves to reinvest in the infrastructure and improve it.

In the case of Spain, is it possible to reduce the energy consumption of the water industry without greater government investment? It is only necessary to look at the US model to see that there is an alternative to public financing that is working well: the Energy Services Performance Contracts (ESPC). The so-called ESPC model allows for energy improvement projects in which the savings generated are sufficient to pay the necessary investment and, in addition, are insured by the Energy Services company.

A good example of the potential of this contractual form is found in the city of Lakeland (Florida), where the signing of the 20-year savings guarantee contract with Schneider Electric provided the town with a 41% reduction in energy consumption in its wastewater treatment facilities, thus producing 14 million dollars of savings that may be used for other purposes.

The solution applied in Lakeland combines new technologies and a set of process improvements with a deferred maintenance program that allows monitoring the activity of the installation in real-time and using the data in a predictive way thanks to the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure platform. The connectivity allows the operation of the infrastructure to be transparent and extract data that, once processed, will be translated into areas of efficiency and energy saving.

The first challenge for water companies is, therefore, to achieve a degree of intelligence and connectivity of their facilities that allows the reduction of operational costs and facilitates energy savings. Thanks to the establishment of performance indicators linked to energy savings, we can generate an economic flow that, in turn, can be reinvested in other items.

Another good example of both energy and financial savings is found in the city of Denison (Texas), where a 15-year Energy Performance Contract was signed that assured the town savings of $340,000 per year. Denison relied on Schneider Electric to make several improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, as well as the installation of a new energy management software system that monitors energy consumption in 11 buildings in the city in real-time. This system allows centralized control, remote access, and more efficient fieldwork programming.



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