Utilities Unbundled 16
Tapping into water sustainability
Innovative technologies offer opportunities for a more integrated and sustainable approach across energy and water, says Tony Conway, Strategic Programs Director at United Utilities.
Rethinking how a water utility operates
When United Utilities decided to reassess what a water company should look like, we recognized that all our assets are part of an end-to-end system that can be optimized for great customer service.
We adopted the best thinking from manufacturing on how to do this, and restructured into three production lines:
- Wastewater (which we call water recycling)
We are introducing production line performance monitoring in real time and using analytics to identify improvement opportunities.
We are two years into a five-year program and have already seen gains in customer service and efficiency.
The global energy industry uses 15% of the world’s total freshwater withdrawal, and this is expected to increase to 20% by 2035.
Innovation for more efficient water use
I am heartened by the amount of innovation out there, which is enabling water companies, energy utilities, local governments and businesses to use water more efficiently.
One area of huge potential is in wastewater. New technology means wastewater can be used:
- To generate electricity
- To displace the demand for drinking water by reusing treated “gray” water
- As a source for recovery of resources
Increasingly, water companies are focusing on energy control and optimization, monitoring energy usage in real time and comparing it to energy forecast models. Incoming rainfall can be tracked by radar, with active digital control managing flow to optimize customer service, environmental impact and energy use.
Improved operating technology, analytics used in combination with “big data” and visually intelligent ways of distributing situational awareness information around an organization are all improving performance and enabling better decision making. Other developments include:
- Acoustic technologies that improve our understanding of the condition of infrastructure networks; combined with risk assessment tools, they can anticipate service failures before they occur
- A more integrated and holistic approach to water management and urban design that means communities are better able to manage flooding, water pollution and provide local sources of water
Developing countries – not burdened with aging infrastructure – have an opportunity to install the newest, most efficient technologies and use real-time data to make better decisions. We call it digital water.
The water-energy nexus means that developing countries need to approach both water and energy generation in a staged, symbiotic way – both are essential to improving economies and lives.
Becoming more water and energy aware
The energy and water sectors have much to learn from each other – the more we understand our connections and how we impact each other, the greater efficiencies we’ll be able to achieve.
Utilities can be transformational for developing economies and there is a global opportunity for growth. We need to overcome barriers to long-term thinking and be innovative in the way we do business.
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