The Water-Energy Nexus
Managing the energy footprint of water — and the water footprint of energy — is a two-pronged challenge. Today's water and energy providers and business leaders across multiple industries must address the challenge of sustaining both these essential resources to ensure future success.
By G. Tracy Mehan, III
Water and energy have a symbiotic relationship. This simple truth becomes increasingly evident as demand for both resources rises. With this in mind, the water industry is exploring methods of moving and treating water that are environmentally sustainable and economically viable. On the other side of the equation, large corporations — utility companies in particular — are becoming more efficient in their consumption of energy and water. Both industries are finding innovative ways to thrive in the 21st century.
Managing the Energy Footprint of Water
Water and wastewater systems spend about $4 billion a year to pump, deliver, collect, treat and clean water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA and other experts predict that energy consumption at water and wastewater utilities will grow by more than 20% in the next 15 years.
The public water system is an especially voracious energy consumer. Pumping water from source to tap, uphill or against a pressure gradient, requires substantial amounts of energy. According to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, electricity consumption for pumping constitutes 90% of total energy use by water utilities and can vary depending on source, distance and type of treatment. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) calculates that more-efficient pumps could generate energy savings of up to 20%.
Energy savings can also be increased by replacing old pumps with newer, more-efficient pumps, or by replacing deteriorated pipes with plastic piping or sealing the deficient pipes with epoxy-based coatings. According to the DOE, epoxy-coated or plastic pipes can reduce the "friction factor," which drives up energy use, by more than 40%.
The EPA's Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Assessment shows that pipe replacement for both transmission and distribution is the largest single category of infrastructure need for water systems. It accounts for more than 60% of the total need for the next 20 years. So the opportunity for further energy efficiency gains, as a by-product of protecting human health, is evident.
Managing the Water Footprint of Energy
Attending to the water-energy nexus in business and industrial facilities requires a systematic management approach to the details of operations and their integration with evolving technologies and information systems.
Take, for example, boiler systems and the steam they generate, which is central to production processes such as tire manufacturing, food and beverage processing, airplane assembly and papermaking.
"Poor boiler-water treatment results in scale and corrosion that can damage a steam system and interfere with efficient heat transfer, requiring more-rapid replacement of expensive equipment and causing system downtime and substantial wasted energy," says J. Erik Fyrwald, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Nalco Company, a global firm providing essential expertise for water, energy and air.
Operating boiler systems more efficiently saves both water and energy while extending the life of the equipment. The new generation of boiler systems employs advanced water-treatment chemistry and sophisticated monitoring and control technology to detect system variability, and automatically responds to correct the problem.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Rising demand in the face of limited supply supports the business case for water efficiency and conservation. "Demand is growing, and supply is pretty much staying static," says Wade Miller, executive director of the WateReuse Association in Alexandria, Va. Between 1950 and 2000, the population of the U.S. doubled; during the same time period, demand for water tripled. Today we see water shortages and depleted reservoirs, intensified by drought and a changing climate, in the arid Colorado River Basin and southeastern U.S.
Fortunately, water reuse and recycling technologies are offering hope for both people and businesses. The market for membrane technologies grew to $2 billion in the U.S. in 2007, and its average annual growth is estimated to be more than 8%. In North Carolina, Global Nuclear Fuel, a joint venture between GE, Toshiba and Hitachi, reduced water use 25 million gallons a year by reusing wastewater through ultrafiltration with biological treatment.
But corporations don't have to break the bank on R&D to achieve water and energy sustainability. Coca-Cola has made significant progress at the plant level for years by simply encouraging plant managers to check for leaks, measure rates of loss and implement simple repairs. The only investment required was a small plastic water gauge the company could order in bulk.
At the core of any successful business initiative to reduce or render more efficient use of water and energy is the venerable "Total Quality Management" (TQM) approach with its emphasis on identifying baselines, setting goals, measuring performance and achieving continuous improvement. It is not rocket science, but it does call for sustained management focus on the challenges at hand. Technology may be a necessary part of the process, but technology alone will not guarantee success.
As these strategies illustrate, managing water and energy in tandem yields numerous opportunities to reduce cost in the delivery of water and wastewater services while benefiting the environment. Where possible, companies should look for opportunities to address both issues at the same time to better leverage their investments in capital equipment as well as operations and maintenance. Looking at both the water and energy sides of the equation may result in a better benefit-cost ratio, justifying the investments that address both concerns.
Striking the Right Balance
Industry has an important role to play in global water preservation. Choosing the right partner is the key to effective water management.
Today's more stringent social, economic and environmental concerns demand that industry renew its focus on total-site water conservation. Water scarcity and drought have far-reaching impacts on regional and global economies and ecosystems. More than 20% of the world's population lacks access to safe drinking water, and more than 40% lives in water-stressed areas. As nations develop, industry accounts for an increasing percentage of total water use, often creating conflicts between industrial water needs and water required for agriculture and human consumption. This leads to industry efforts to conserve and reduce water use. Developing a plan that matches water quality and quantity needs with benchmarks can be readily accomplished with the right plan and partner.
Water and energy costs, as well as industry trends and regulations, are driving companies to develop resource management plans. In addition to cost, the availability and quality of water are concerns that have led to conservation measures that reduce, reuse and recycle water throughout a facility. Another challenge is finding a qualified partner who can identify opportunities and implement solutions to reduce your water use.
Implementing these plans at one plant is daunting, but establishing water and energy resource management plans across multinational-multisite operations can be overwhelming. However, this type of program can save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Nalco Company delivers solutions that reduce our customers' environmental impact through a detailed assessment of their plant. On-site engineers, with the support of Nalco's industry experts, provide in-depth recommendations for how water and energy performance can be optimized without compromising operations, asset life or product quality.
Customers want the ability to measure established key performance indicators to ensure that results are validated and savings captured. Implementation of programs, monitoring, on-site service and best practices can be standardized across facilities to achieve global norms of operational excellence. This enables the implementation of sustainable initiatives on an enterprise-wide scale. Nalco has the industry expertise, global reach and innovation to understand the needs of critical operations and drive standardized, cost-effective solutions across the enterprise.
Taking customer needs as the research focus, our global Nalco R&D group develops leading-edge technologies that deliver sustainable development to our customers. 3D TRASAR® technology exemplifies this commitment to innovation. Covered by 27 patents, 3D TRASAR cooling water technology optimizes system performance by combining unique chemistries, sensors, algorithms, hardware and software. In 2008, this technology saved 63 billion gallons of water worldwide, enough to meet the annual basic water needs of 13 million people.
Knowledge, services and experience in a variety of industries make up the essential expertise we bring to our customers. This results in cleaner water, less industrial use of fresh water, energy savings and improved air quality. These solutions not only help customers save money and be more successful — they also improve the quantity and quality of resources available worldwide.
Forbes Custom is a custom publishing site that features
special advertising sections from Forbes magazine
as well as industry articles and videos from our partners.
The editors at Forbes were not involved in the creation of this content.
Site Developed by SmartMark Communications, LLC
© Forbes Magazine, All Rights Reserved