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How water companies are going all the way on energy and operational efficiency

The water industry can get ahead of PR24 by using energy innovation to drive bigger cost and carbon savings.

In an article written for Water Magazine, Mike Cumby of Centrica Business Solutions explains how advanced data analytics and on-site generation are transforming energy and operational efficiency in the water industry – helping companies get ahead of PR24.

Ofwat has made it clear that the sector must make better use of data to drive improvements through efficiency and innovation. Energy data intelligence can yield impressive results.

Discover how one water management company has used PowerRadar™ to improve their energy efficiency

Water company benefits from asset-level data

Through the deployment of our Panoramic Power™ energy insights technology, we've improved  visibility of energy consumption at a prominent UK water services company. 3,000 self-powered sensors are collecting information from 9.46 billion data monitoring points each year.

This is providing a cost effective way of understanding how energy is being used across multiple sites –  right down to an asset level. It's enabling them to optimise their operations and reduce energy waste to realise cost savings and deliver on their sustainability targets.

Captured data is delivered to our energy management platform, PowerRadar™, for analysis. Here, it is collected into 30-minute datasets for analysis by the water services company. Daily and weekly reports on their energy usage are generated, which inform a data-driven energy strategy.

With real-time visibility of clean water and waste water processing, they are able to conduct better root cause analysis of issues and make immediate interventions that improve network resilience, maximise capital plant investment, optimise maintenance regimes, and minimise equipment failures. For instance, an issue with large air distributers and mixing operations was identified and rectified through process modifications.

How IoT energy insights work

IoT energy insight technology captures real-time data at circuit-level granularity – providing a more intelligent approach to energy and operational management.  

The technology works by linking a cloud-based analytics platform to wireless sensors and utility meters that monitor critical energy intensive  equipment and processes. By analysing and visualising captured data, you understand  how, when and where you're using energy with a single,  holistic view of your site-wide energy footprint.  Gas, heat, air flow and water usage, as  well as on-site generators, such as solar and CHP, can also be monitored and analysed.

Your own team can simply attach the self-powered, non-invasive sensors onto the outgoing electrical wire that powers each device, without disrupting operations.

Moving beyond energy and operational efficiency

Energy can account for around  a fifth of a water services company's operating costs, so finding advanced opportunities to reduce waste is critical. Many businesses have already exhausted the 'quick win' energy efficiency opportunities, while on-site CHP and solar generation are widely used across the sector.  Now is the time to take energy efficiency all the way with advanced energy insights – by revealing hidden opportunities to eliminate energy wastage and address operational issues.

Taking an intelligent approach to energy management translates into both cost and carbon savings. Given that water and sewage treatment is estimated to account for around 2% of UK electricity consumption and contribute approximately 0.7% of total UK CO2 emissions, decarbonisation  is an urgent priority for the industry.  

Operational efficiency and resilience savings from advanced energy analytics are sometimes even bigger than the energy cost savings. Anomalies picked up by software can indicate deep-lying faults in equipment, or weaknesses in operational performance that are hard  to detect.  Intelligent data  can also inform maintenance requirements, including predictive 24/7 alerts, to reduce downtime, increase productivity and extend asset life. It's sometimes possible to identify potential equipment failures before they occur.  

Balancing stakeholder demands

Water companies face a difficult balancing act. They must deliver shareholder value and comply with regulatory standards, while also minimising customer bills; reducing and reporting carbon emissions; achieving water quality standards; and removing risk from operations to ensure resilience.

Energy insights provide a cost-effective opportunity to meet increasing stakeholder expectations from regulators, shareholders, consumers and environmental groups, especially in meeting the tighter requirements of PR24.

Informing energy investment priorities

Data insights can help build an accurate and convincing case for investment in further energy efficiency improvements and other advanced solutions, such as solar PV and battery storage, and natural gas or biogas fired Combined heat and power (CHP). In this way, companies can shift usage from the grid to more affordable, sustainable and resilient energy supplies.

Onsite generation and storage

Self generation is part of the disruption we are seeing in the way energy is supplied, consumed and purchased within the water industry. This is paying off handsomely in cost and carbon savings. As an example, biogas Combined Heat and Power (CHP) installations across wastewater sites are delivering rapid payback on investment and is widely used across the sector.

The industry has also been an early adopter of other renewable technologies, such as  solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Affinity Water is one of many water companies that are self generating renewable energy for cost and carbon reduction. Our installation of 1,820 solar panels at Affinity Water's Chertsey production plant is producing 12% of the site's energy needs & supporting the company's carbon net zero plan. Within six months  this has reduced energy costs by nearly £145,000 and saved 160 tonnes of CO2.

Water companies are also beginning to exploit floating solar PV technologies. In a recent project, we have enabled our greenhouse customer Kwekerij de Noordhoek to monetise the surface area of their freshwater basin by reducing energy costs, selling solar-generated green electricity to the grid and accessing other demand side revenues.

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.

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