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How can water companies use energy more intelligently?

As the water industry is challenged to meet the conflicting demands of regulators, consumers, environmental groups and shareholders, Mark Emery, Business Development Manager at Centrica Business Solutions, explains why it is so important that water companies use energy more intelligently.

In what ways should water companies reconsider how they use and manage energy?

Resilience is critical to the water industry. Water and sewage facilities are a vital part of our national infrastructure, and failures in supply would be unacceptable to customers and regulators alike. Since customer satisfaction is increasingly being used as a key performance indicator for the water industry, anything that may negatively impact it – like water leaks or burst mains – must be avoided at all costs. This is being reinforced by Ofwat, who is penalising organisations that do not meet their target level of leakage within their distribution network.

Water companies can enhance their resilience by changing how they generate, use and manage energy. A change in energy strategy can provide them with the visibility they need to analyse the performance and behaviour of their equipment and ensure assets are used in the most efficient way. This is particularly relevant for critical equipment like pumping machines, where failure is simply not an option.

Many companies have a planned maintenance programme, but this may not go far enough to avoid critical failures and downtime. That’s where innovative technologies, like our Energy Insight offering, are required. Energy Insight enables water companies to understand which precise pieces of equipment are doing most of the work and, therefore, are more likely to fail. They can then implement a data-led predictive maintenance regime or a just-in-time process, to keep everything running smoothly – without incurring additional resource or cost maintaining equipment that is less likely to fail. Not only does this approach help to build resilience across their assets, but it also helps to ensure they get the lifetime value out of their capital investment.

How can a shift in energy strategy help water companies meet their regulatory requirements?

Ofwat recently introduced a new regulation, requiring all UK water utilities that have co-located clean and waste water processing to report on their energy consumption for each. Many of these sites are dispersed over a large area, and often only have one or two electrical energy supply meters, so there are usually significant technical challenges in gathering this information.

With Energy Insight, our wireless, self-powered sensors can be rapidly and seamlessly deployed across the site to give them immediate access to the real-time data that’s required to meet this regulation. This solution is easy to install and can be used to for both power and fiscal reporting requirements, as well as to optimise the site’s overall energy consumption by identifying energy inefficiencies and waste.

How can water companies become more sustainable?

Many water companies are focused on sustainability and want their customers to know they have the best interests of the environment at heart. Reducing incidents of pollution, compliance with permits and protecting the quality of water at source is critical. But managing their operations as efficiently as possible is an important part of this too.

Water utilities are subject to expensive Red Band charges from their Distribution Network Operator (DNO), and they’re strongly incentivised to reduce their energy consumption during these time periods. They need clear visibility of their energy consumption during Red Band time periods, in order to ascertain what machinery can be switched off across their sites. Not only does will allow them to become more sustainable and use energy more efficiently, but it also means they can reduce their overall costs too.

In spite of sustainability being high on the corporate agenda, an Environment Agency report found that there is still a lot more work to be done. A recent drop in performance meant that just one company achieved the highest four-star rating under their Environment Performance Assessment.

We believe that becoming a sustainable business means balancing environmental responsibilities with economic considerations. Focus exclusively on profit without considering your environmental impact, and it’s likely it will negatively impact the perceptions of your customers, employees and investors. Prioritise environmental concerns over financial performance, and you may find yourself without a viable business model.

Becoming a sustainable business isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. The journey can be challenging, so many successful businesses are complementing their internal expertise by engaging a third party, like Centrica Business Solutions, to help them understand the latest technologies, build business cases, engage stakeholders and support implementation.