Boosting the Triple Bottom Line

Energy-efficient utilities and plants help communities boost the triple bottom line of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social benefit. However, for cities seeking to improve their water or wastewater infrastructure, investing in upgrades and technology can pose fiscal challenges. While it may seem counterintuitive to update equipment in a time of economic duress, now is an excellent time to pursue these improvements.

Progressive municipalities have discovered an opportunity for substantial returns on investment with minimal risk using innovative financing options, including performance contracting. Performance contracting is a comprehensive approach to identifying a variety of ways to achieve savings and operational efficiencies, making it possible to undertake substantial improvements and technology enhancements without waiting for more favorable economic conditions.

Marrying new energy technologies with sound water or wastewater improvements provides cities with a solid foundation on which to continuously improve infrastructure and operational efficiencies, ultimately leading to reduced carbon footprint. Benefits may be compounded by implementation of advanced network integration, such as smart grid technology, to manage water and wastewater utilities.

Investing in Water and Wastewater Systems for Long-Term Savings

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the nation?s wastewater plants and drinking water systems spend about $4 billion on energy to treat water annually. Investing in upgrades is a route to higher efficiency and lower costs, allowing municipalities to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Plant improvements can:

  • Boost the local economy by creating construction and maintenance jobs
  • Automate processes, providing staff with the technology to do their jobs better
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and displace fossil-fuel energy with renewables, such as wind and solar power
  • Enhance water quality and aesthetics at wildlife habitats and recreational facilities
  • Improve community relations by preventing odors

Upgrades can also increase treatment capacity, allowing the community to accommodate industrial growth without the high cost of plant expansion.

Promising Areas for Energy Gains in Wastewater Facilities

A variety of new and emerging technologies are available to wastewater treatment plant owners looking to improve energy and operating efficiency. Areas with high potential for efficiency gains include:

Aeration systems ? In conventional activated sludge wastewater treatment plants, aeration is the largest consumer of electricity. High-efficiency blowers and diffusers, as well as automated control systems, curb power consumption.

Renewables ? Hardly a week goes by without a new announcement of a water or wastewater treatment plant implementing solar photovoltaic systems to produce electricity that will offset power purchases from local utilities. This reduces the risk associated with future increases in energy pricing. Some plants have been able to install wind turbine generators and some have found geothermal and solar thermal applications. Utilization of digester gas has been around for years and new process enhancements increase the potential for on-site generation of electricity.

Plant buildings ? Plant owners looking to upgrade treatment processes commonly overlook building systems as sources of savings. Treatment plants that include multiple buildings are often less than optimally efficient. Common improvements to investigate for buildings include ventilation, lighting retrofits and controls, air-handling systems and building automation systems.
Energy monitoring and supply control ? The SCADA systems available to treatment plant operators tend to focus on process parameters. Many operators have learned that it is possible to save energy and meet discharge standards, but need the information on energy consumption to do so. Programming critical energy metrics into the process controls or building automation system provides the operators with the technology to reduce power costs without compromising treatment performance.

Wastewater treatment facility improvements, ranging from building upgrades to implementing renewable energy technologies, are important ways municipalities can reduce energy costs and consumption. Technologies that implement smart grid concepts help communities take water and wastewater utilities to the next level by providing an integrated platform to manage power citywide.

Smart Grid Technology

Emerging as the premier solution for cities across the nation to manage their energy needs is the smart grid. This concept takes modern-day information technology and applies it to infrastructure that delivers electricity.

The full potential of the smart grid concept for municipal utilities goes beyond metering technology and enhanced system control. It is successful because of the communication network that facilitates it. The smart grid creates opportunities to deliver popular new services, appeal to new businesses, invigorate economic growth and improve the community with sustainable solutions for residents.

For municipal utilities, the smart grid concepts easily extend to water. It enables two-way digital communication between the utility and its customers, helping the utility to operate its systems more efficiently, while reducing waste and restricting cost increases. Meanwhile, it helps customers view their own energy usage and make educated choices on how much to use, when, and at what price.

Success stories from two local governments provide lessons in the immediate benefits of smart grid concepts and its future potential:

Cumberland, Md. ? Infrastructure upgrades to accommodate new business and jobs included investment in a smart-grid-style system with data from automated water meter reading on a network that also provides citywide WiFi access. Without marketing support, the system already has enough users to break even. As the subscriber base expands, profits will be placed in a fund for reinvestment to sustain and improve the program. The project is expected to save the city $8 million in energy and operating costs over 15 years.

Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio ? The municipal utility installed 24,000 new water and electric meters allowing automated reading on a fixed-base system. The two-way communication capability helps support demand response programs for commercial and industrial customers. The program is expected to save the city $2 million annually for 10 years.

The combination of smart grid and smart treatment technologies strengthens reliability and security, reduces energy costs and carbon footprints, improves service to customers, and even revitalizes cities themselves. Facility managers, utilities and cities nationwide can avoid $33 billion in costs and eliminate 160 million tons of carbon emissions annually by 2030 by implementing smart grid technology into building infrastructures.

Innovative Financing

Wastewater treatment upgrades and smart grid technologies require investments that can be significant in challenging economic times. Cities and water authorities have turned to performance contracting to fund utility improvements and upgrades in a self-funding, budget-neutral manner. The upgrades are funded by operational savings, with no up-front investment.

Under a performance contract, the energy savings offsets the improvement cost. An energy service company (ESCO) completes a series of facility, process and infrastructure upgrades that reduce energy and operating costs by a defined amount over the term of a contract.

Financing is typically structured so that monthly savings are greater than the monthly payment on the upgrades, resulting in positive cash flow for the city. The ESCO responsible for the performance contract also guarantees results. Once improvements are fully paid for, the city collects the full benefit of the savings on an ongoing basis.

Municipalities looking to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions can utilize the EPA ?Energy Star? program, which offers energy-efficiency tools and resources to eliminate energy waste and cut operating costs. Portfolio Manager, the EPA?s online benchmarking tool, enables utility managers to track energy use, energy costs and carbon emissions. Managers can compare their facility?s energy use with similar utilities using EPA?s energy performance rating system.

Now is an ideal time to investigate upgrades to water and wastewater utilities and implement smart grid technologies as a means to realize heightened efficiency and lower costs. A modern, high-performing utility is an asset to its community, and serves as a catalyst for economic prosperity, environmental responsibility and an enhanced quality of life.

Arif Quraishi is Director Local Government-Americas for Johnson Controls Inc. Quraishi has over 20 years of experience in sustainable and renewable energy solutions with Exxon, Johnson Controls and the Institute for Environmental Assessment. Quraishi oversees one of the largest national teams within Johnson Controls that is focused on public-private partnerships with local governments, as well as the water market, in the United States, Canada and Central/South America.

Peter V. Cavagnaro, P.E., BCEE, is a Project Development Consultant-Water for Johnson Controls Inc. Since he joined Johnson Controls in 2004, Cavagnaro has been instrumental in developing energy efficiency projects for water and wastewater facilities.? He has been instrumental in adapting energy savings performance contracting principles to the water and wastewater industry, which has traditionally used the design/bid/build approach to developing and implementing projects.

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