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Energy Innovation in the water industry

How water industry energy specialists are driving cost reduction and sustainability.

Steven Clarke reports back from WWT's Water Industry Energy Conference on the big energy challenges and opportunities facing water companies.

We were delighted to join the UK's energy in water professionals and to sponsor this important event. It was a great opportunity to share best practice and discuss how energy has a growing profile across the sector – as the transition to renewable generation continues.

The need for innovation

As water companies work towards a carbon-neutral future and to meeting the demands of OFWAT's PR19 price review, energy innovation and cost saving is high on the agenda.  

Onsite and renewable generation, leveraging big data, demand side response and energy storage were among the topics covered at the conference. Although energy efficiency is moving up a level, delegates reported that they were now paying more attention to implementing ESOS action plans, such as behavioural change and employee engagement programmes.

Innovation is one of the four pillars of PR19, which will drive and incentivise new ways of managing energy via 'frontier shifting performance improvements'. Conference saw some great innovations and tremendous endeavours to drive performance, such as Anglian Water's success in reducing operating carbon output by 175%, and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water's renewable ‘Wastewater Energy Park’.

Big Data analytics

Conference presentations showed that increased digitisation will provide insights into operating inefficiencies and driving down carbon. Anglian Water want to be carbon neutral by 2050, an inspiring target that can only be achieved by following a data-driven strategy.

Centrica Business Solutions recently analysed energy consumption data across hundreds of water sites to demonstrate the value of operational insight. This revealed millions of pounds worth of potential benefit from applying our advanced software analytics to leverage value from energy reduction and flexibility; a process enhanced by our recent acquisition of REstore.

Our participation in water industry 'hackathons' has shown that terabytes of half-hour metered data can unlock the 'art of the possible', by revealing strong potential for net energy cost reductions. In our experience, almost 20% of load can come under severe scrutiny.

As water companies drive performance to the lower part of the exponential curve of improvement, a more informed approach to driving efficiency is necessary. Gaining insight at device level is critical to delivering additional value. It helps drive answers to where, what and why asset performance differs.

The advent of advanced software analytics and IoT sensors, such as our Energy Insights solution, makes it possible to cost effectively gather and interpret power data at an asset level to inform deeper energy savings.  

Energy consumption data also provides a signpost to operational activity, enabling anomalies to be detected. This is when the big wins start and the journey to continuous and predictive maintenance assures high uptime and reduced costs.

Energy as a community service

Hitachi presented on three of the pillars of global energy systems, which support the transition to a more sustainable future. All water companies are adopting strategies to decarbonise their output, using decentralised generation and minimising power from Grid.

This is a data driven (digitisation) strategy that eventually moves towards energy as a service, and a fourth pillar of energy democratisation. As water companies strive to work more closely with their community, local energy markets will emerge – using bio-generated energy, locally traded and locally consumed. This is an important part of PR19’s drive towards closer ties and more benefits to customers.

Flexible benefits

Speakers noted that the water industry is one of the largest energy consumers in the UK, but is also the nation's battery, with vast quantities of stored energy that can be used to improve system inertia.

The industry has proven case studies where demand side response has been implemented without affecting process outcomes, but the opportunities of DSR have grown beyond optimising process so that power is flexed in line with wholesale market events

Our FlexTreo solution automatically manages wholesale trading and imbalance opportunities in conjunction with process control . This advanced application of artificial intelligence has been successfully proven across many high energy process industries.

Onsite generation and storage

The industry is, without exception, building renewable and low carbon generation into its operating strategy. Self generation is part of the disruption we are seeing in the way energy is supplied, consumed and purchased, and is paying off handsomely in cost and carbon savings. As an example, biogas Combined Heat and Power (CHP) installations across wastewater sites are delivering a typical 18-24 month payback.  

The industry has also been an early adopter of other renewable technologies, such as solar, which is becoming an increasingly attractive proposition due to the increasing affordability of battery storage. These distributed energy solutions provide an exciting opportunity for water companies to engage in community energy schemes, as demonstrated by Centrica's Local Energy Market (LEM) project in Cornwall, which is trialling the use of blockchain to create an energy platform for peer-to-peer trading

As the days of passive, centralised energy management disappear, there are many exciting opportunities for water companies to innovate and take their energy saving strategy to a new level.

See how Centrica can power your energy performance or get in touch here to learn more.