Responsive environmental resilience
Rich Matthews, MD at Siltbuster Process Solutions (SPS), talks about industry pressures, the current performance of water companies and the importance of environmental resilience.
Given the current economic, as well as environmental pressures that we now face in the UK, it is important that we as an industry demonstrate our agile ability to provide more responsive environmental resilience in a green recovery arena.
The diverse range of climatic conditions in 2020, from the floods in February through to the heatwaves in the summer, reminds us of the need for a reliable infrastructure system that flex to our needs. As a result, it is essential that we continue to seek more efficient means of capital investment and operational support programmes – a responsive environmental resilience.
The scale of the AMP7 quality programme had already presented some significant challenges for the sector in terms of the scale of investment required and the expected outcomes. This has now been coupled with Covid-19 mitigation, as well as a growing transient population, challenging environmental conditions and the impact of climate change, all of which cannot be underestimated.
The industry shares a crucial responsibility to protect the environment and future generations. In doing so it requires compliance to be the cornerstone of its operation. The recent environmental performance figures demonstrate the hard work the industry has to put in just to maintain a current position when improvement is a necessity. Whilst these present some of the toughest challenges the industry has ever faced, it is these scenarios where the strength of the collaborative sector comes through.
Aging infrastructure needs an alternative rationale for resolution. We cannot simply build traditional methodologies or defined end of pipe solutions. The need to build a ‘green recovery plan’ will ensure that more catchment based solutions are considered, either through minimising run-off, more effective management of trade contributions or more modular based package plant for phased and targeted investment.
Modular packaged plants have had limited opportunity to demonstrate the flexibility to facilitate longer term planning considerations. Barriers can exist, such acceptance to vary traditional design standards, unclear investment objectives (i.e. NPV) or supply chain integration to challenge the norm. However, fundamentally modular package plants could hold the answer to providing the flexibility and resilience that we are seeking in this new challenging environment. Effectively adopting a ‘SMART’ delivery concept - Standard, Modular, Agile, Responsive, Treatment - is well aligned to the ambition of the industry to drive for efficiencies and prove that AMP7 can be achieved in a sustainable manner.
The delivery of ‘SMART’ solutions for wastewater requires increased engagement and collaboration with the supply chain. It will enable the water industry to draw on and benefit from experiences of other industries that are deploying responsive modular solutions. Drawing on the understanding from other wastewater sectors is critical; food and beverage production is heavily reliant on effluent treatment plant availability so downtime for maintenance and upgrade has to minimised. This is often affected by seasonal load variations on production lines – all similar issues facing the water industry.
Therefore, there is a need to adapt to a more responsive approach, where modular build is a principle well suited to the industry needs. Modular solutions don’t have be new technologies and processes, it can involve simply thinking about things differently and thus using familiar technologies in smarter, more strategic ways. It is essential that any investment in water treatment is best placed to support current needs, as well as those in the future. This might mean building asset bases in an incremental manner or bolting on assets to optimise asset bases. Either way, the important thing is that it all adds up to achieving a more sustainable outcome for the industry and environment.
Optimising asset base
Package plants also offer significant opportunity to optimise the existing asset base through an ability to provide parallel treatment to reduce loadings or stress, and enable process headroom to be achieved, particularly during seasonal loads.
An example of this in practice is the use of package plant biological units, such as submerged aerated filters historically used to support shortfalls in biological capacity. However, with the breadth of treatment solutions now available as package plants, complete side stream activities can be configured to allow complete works to be taken offline, providing programming flexibility. This can be a critical benefit in ensuring that compliance is not compromised whilst undertaking essential capital maintenance on assets. This is planned work that enhances asset life.
To drive a successful outcome for compliance, sustained asset investment and flexibility it is time to change our approach in traditional build and procurement. The economic and political conditions will insist this step change occurs and it is important that the supply chain is engaged effectively to ensure that the experience, skills and knowledge in responsive treatment systems can be best utilised.
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