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Elevating water to the C-level

David Copeland

The demand for water and the cost of treating it are increasing, making sustainability and efficiency essential for water companies, manufacturers and business users alike, says Sustainability Live's David Copeland, ahead of IWEX 2014.

Thames is installing smart water meters for customersThames is installing smart water meters for customers

Water and energy are inextricably linked as a sustainability concern. Although there are differences between energy efficiency measures and water efficiency measures, they share many common attributes and are typically managed by the same person or function within an organisation.

For many businesses that rely on water as part of their commercial processes, and for organisations whose business is water (i.e. utilities), the management of water, waste, and energy are already a strategic concern. The water and sewerage sectors for example, have made significant progress since they were privatised two decades ago in addressing a neglected infrastructure, and the polluted beaches and rivers that earned the UK the tag of ‘dirty man of Europe’.

Today, the UK has world-class drinking water and a cleaner environment. According to Ofwat, services are safer, better and more secure than ever before, with leakage down by 35% since its peak in the mid-1990s. UK water companies have invested about £85B in maintaining and improving assets and services, and some 90,000km of pipes and water mains have been replaced or improved.

Regulatory reform

Despite the significant progress, multiple challenges remain. The costs associated with implementing EU legislation for example, are considerable. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) could cost between £30-100B in England and Wales by 2027. However, the UK government’s ambitious Draft Water Bill is designed to slash red tape and drive increased competition to ensure water companies have an incentive to come up with cheaper, more sustainable solutions to sourcing water.

Meanwhile, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has embarked on a ‘Water for Life’ programme that includes plans for reform of the abstraction regime, ensuring a resilient infrastructure to meet future demand for water, and protecting the UK’s rivers and other water bodies from over-abstraction and pollution. Defra is also working with the Environment Agency (EA) and Ofwat to provide clearer guidance to water companies on planning for the long-term, and keeping demand down. Ofwat also has numerous projects underway, having launched a refreshed ‘Delivering sustainable water’ strategy in 2010.

The water and sewerage sectors are particularly energy intensive and have a large amount of carbon embedded in their production processes. Companies will therefore be impacted by the implementation of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. This is a mandatory carbon emissions reporting and pricing scheme that came into effect in October 2013 and covers all organisations in the UK (excluding state funded schools in England) using more than 6,000MWh per year of electricity.

Organisations that meet the qualification threshold are required to monitor their energy use, and report their energy supplies annually. They must also purchase and surrender allowances to offset their emissions. Those organisations that fail to comply will face financial and other penalties.

Technological evolution

With European Union (EU) countries obligated to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, water companies will need to invest and innovate in new technologies, processes and approaches that reduce carbon impact while improving services and the local environment.

One area of focus currently is the use of smarter leakage and pressure management techniques. With water companies in the UK still experiencing losses of up to 27% of treated water due to the poor condition of the water network, savings could be achieved using smarter leakage and pressure management technologies. However, water utility companies have been slow to adopt new technology.

Due to the ineffective nature of water management systems, technology and smart water management systems are arguably the only way to significantly reduce the capital and operational running costs currently incurred. A smart water network is defined as an integrated set of products, solutions and systems that enable utilities to remotely and continuously monitor and diagnose problems, prioritise and manage maintenance issues and use data to optimise all aspects of the water distribution network.

According to research commissioned by Sensus, smart water networks could save utilities globally up to $12.5B a year. The findings, published in ‘Water 20/20: Bringing Smart Water Networks Into Focus’ provide insight from more than 180 utilities worldwide, and suggest that improvements in system performance, such as leakage and pressure management, and network operations and water quality monitoring, coupled with informed decision making about the allocation of capital expenditures can stimulate dramatic savings when driven by real-time data that a smart water network provides.

Utilities get smarter

Last year, Thames Water announced that it was to become the first company in the UK to start installing smart water meters at all the properties it serves, enabling customers to monitor their usage online. With less than a third of its customers currently on meters, the company aims to have all its connections metered by 2030. Numerous other water companies throughout the UK are also piloting smart water meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), as well as other technologies such as smart pressure management solutions.

Thames Water is also pioneering a new technology at its Slough Sewage Treatment Works to recover phosphorus and ammonia from its wastewater stream and transform them into an environmentally-friendly and premium-quality commercial fertiliser. The fertiliser, called ‘Crystal Green’, is currently being sold in North America, but has also received the go-ahead for sale in the UK from the EA and Trading Standards Service.

Dubbed Europe’s first ‘nutrient recovery reactor’ (or ‘poo power’ by some), the project at Thames Water is a public / private partnership, with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies delivering the plant. Thames Water expects to make £200,000 a year from the combination of selling 150 tonnes of its fertiliser to farmers and gardeners, and not having to spend as much money on chemicals to unblock pipes. Thames Water’s Graham Southall, head of Commercial Projects, will be presenting a case study on this ground-breaking project at IWEX.

Value at risk

The public clearly expect utility companies to use technology to deliver better and more cost efficient service, but water efficiency and sustainability are becoming a growing concern for commercial organisations too.

In its Global Water Report 2013, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) noted that the number of investors requesting corporate water data had quadrupled in just three years. The report, based on the water disclosures of 184 Global 500 corporations, found that 70% had identified water as a substantive business risk, with anticipated financial impacts as high as $1B for some.

However, the report concluded that respondents’ water stewardship activities are notably lacking, potentially exposing their company and investors to risks that could be mitigated. Although the majority of respondents (63%) set concrete targets and goals for their direct operations and, in general, many of these were focused on reducing water use or increasing water recycling / reuse, such a narrow focus meant these companies could be missing potential opportunities and overlooking serious risks.

CDP members are said to be promoting corporate water stewardship as a risk reduction strategy. Meanwhile, Deloitte Consulting, which helped prepare the report for CDP, believes a growing number of companies are starting to pay attention to potential ‘value at risk’ – i.e. what if I don’t have water when I need it, where I need it, in the quantities that I need it, and what might be the financial impact be?

Retailer takes up water stewardship challenge

In the UK, water stewardship is one of Sainsbury’s key environmental targets. It forms part of the company’s 20x20 Sustainability Plan, which is the cornerstone of its business strategy. Last year, the retailer announced that it had reduced its operational water consumption across its entire estate by 50% against an 05/06 baseline, at the end of March 2013 – a saving of 393 Olympic sized swimming pools each year (about 982,500m3).

Sainsbury’s achieved its water reduction target in a number of ways, such as eradicating underground leaks, which has saved its stores hundreds of thousands of pounds, and fitting equipment such as pre-rinse spray taps and low-flush toilets across all of its stores. It has also invested in rainwater harvesting for all new stores as standard, as well as retrofitting these units in existing stores. Sainsbury’s has also become one of the first organisations to achieve the Carbon Trust Water Standard, which certifies organisations that measure, manage and reduce water use year on year. Tuval Rockman, Environmental Resources manager at Sainsbury's will be chairing the Water Efficiency for Business session at IWEX.

With politician’s focused on achieving carbon emission targets, the insidious threat posed by water shortages in the UK has taken something of a back seat. However, the Carbon Trust believes water is the new frontier in the battle against climate change. This view is echoed by the OECD, which has identified a number of concerning trends for water demand, water quality, and water supply and sanitation.

According to the OECD, water demand will grow by 55% globally between 2000 and 2050, with the increase being driven primarily by manufacturing, electricity, and domestic use. Over the same period, the number of people at risk from floods is projected to rise from 1.2 billion to around 1.6 billion in 2050 (nearly 20% of the world’s population), placing $45 trillion of assets at risk. This has prompted it to call for urgent and strategic policy responses – with a warning that governments and authorities in charge of water management must do more to make the water outlook manageable.

This is why it is so important for water utilities, vested stakeholders, politicians and industry professionals to come together to discuss how technological innovation can bring about much needed improvement to the water sector.

 

About IWEX 2014:

Organised by Faversham House as part of Sustainability Live 2014, IWEX is the key annual forum for the water and wastewater industry and its supply chain. Showcasing ground-breaking innovations by leading companies from across the industry, IWEX includes a free-to-attend keynote and seminar programme. Cutting through the jargon and debate to discuss the latest sustainability policy and practice affecting business, the event also features practical case study presentations providing visitors with the opportunity to learn how to make their organisation more water efficient, and how to manage their financial, social and environmental risks, opportunities and obligations. Energy Recovery is co-located with NEMEX and Energy Recovery as part of Sustainability Live at the NEC Birmingham from 1-3 April 2014. Click here to pre-register for free visitor entry.

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