NewEnergyNews: TODAY’S STUDY: THE ELECTRICITY USED TO GET WATER

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    Tuesday, July 07, 2015

    TODAY’S STUDY: THE ELECTRICITY USED TO GET WATER

    A Survey of Energy Use in Water Companies

    Rachel Young, June 2015 (American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy)

    Abstract

    The relationship between water and energy is a close one. Water requires a tremendous amount of energy to move from a reservoir or well, through the treatment process, and out into a distribution system. In addition, energy is required to process wastewater and recycle or discharge it. The energy required to operate the water and wastewater system is often called embedded energy.

    Despite this strong connection, the energy intensity of water and wastewater systems is relatively undocumented. There are few data sources and reports analyzing the energy required to move and treat water, and the data generally are not publicly available. ACEEE has been working to gain a better understanding of the energy embedded in water in order to help water utilities reduce costs, improve energy efficiency, and quantify the avoided energy and pollution savings that accrue as a result of water conservation programs.

    As part of an ongoing effort to advance the understanding of the water–energy nexus and bring attention to possible opportunities, the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) collaborated on a new research project to gather primary information on the amount of energy required to treat and distribute water. ACEEE and NAWC jointly produced a survey for NAWC’s member companies related to their energy use and water processing. NAWC has over 100 member water and wastewater companies of varying sizes throughout the United States.

    Unsurprisingly, the water companies surveyed have energy intensity similar to those seen in previous ACEEE research (Young 2014). In our previous study we found that energy intensity of the water system is between 200 kWh/million gallons and 16,000 kWh/million gallons. Table ES1 shows the result of the NAWC survey, a range of 0–2,800 kWh/million gallons, with an average of about 2,300 kWh/million gallons.

    The survey also confirmed previous studies showing that the distance water travels in the system, the water source, and the size of the water utility all impact the energy intensity of the water system.

    In addition to the energy and water data collected, ACEEE found that some water and wastewater companies are making substantial progress in improving their energy and water efficiency. Overall we found that 9 out of 11 participating utilities have instituted leak-detection efforts in the past three years and 5 out of 11 offer water conservation programs of some sort to their customers. Of the 11 participating utilities, 3 partner with an energy utility, including 1 water utility with a joint program for end-use customers.

    Introduction

    The relationship between water and energy is a close one. Water requires a tremendous amount of energy to move from a reservoir or well, through the treatment process, and out into a distribution system. A gallon of water weighs approximately eight pounds, and water systems may stretch for hundreds of miles. In addition, energy is required to process wastewater and to recycle or discharge it. The energy required to operate the water and wastewater system is often called embedded energy.

    Despite this strong connection, the energy intensity of water and wastewater systems is relatively undocumented. There are few data sources and reports analyzing the energy required to move and treat water, and the data are generally not publicly available. ACEEE has been working to gain a better understanding of the energy embedded in water in order to help water utilities reduce costs, improve energy efficiency, and quantify the avoided energy and pollution savings that accrue as a result of water conservation programs.

    As part of an ongoing effort to advance the understanding of the water-energy nexus and bring attention to possible opportunities, the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) collaborated on a new research project to gather primary information on the amount of energy required to treat and distribute water. This effort has three goals:

    1. Expand our understanding of the energy embedded in water source and conveyance, treatment, and distribution as well as wastewater treatment and discharge.

    2. Provide data on energy use per gallon of water processed.

    3. Help NAWC members better understand their energy use to help them identify opportunities for reducing energy use.

    To achieve these objectives, ACEEE and NAWC jointly produced a survey for NAWC’s member companies related to their energy use and water processing. NAWC has over 100 member companies of varying sizes throughout the United States. The intersection between water and energy provides many opportunities for water companies to save energy by becoming more energy efficient, reducing water waste at their facilities, and persuading their customers to waste less water. We wanted to get a better understanding of how NAWC’s members are improving their energy efficiency. In our survey we asked companies to provide their energy consumption and water processing data so we could understand their energy intensities. Several questions in the survey focused on energy efficiency at water processing plants, conservation programs provided, and any efforts undertaken in partnership with energy utilities.

    Water And Wastewater Facilities

    In this paper when we refer to water companies we mean companies that process and supply potable water to customers. Water supply has a multitude of systems that use energy during operations, including the actual processing and pumping of water. The majority of energy use in potable water processes is in pumping water from the source through to distribution channels. Pumping of treated water is particularly electric-intensive and accounts for the majority of total electricity use in public water-supply systems.

    We also discuss wastewater companies that are responsible for the collection, treatment, and discharge of water after it has been used by people in homes, businesses, or industry. We include any treatment of water that is then recycled back to the end-use customer or is supplied back to the water companies. The energy associated with recycling water is included in the wastewater section of this paper.

    Though wastewater treatment facilities use some natural gas for space heating and heating of anaerobic digesters, they rely primarily on electricity for a wide range of processes, including pumping, filtration, aeration, air compression, and sludge dewatering and thickening (Hamilton et al. 2009). Electricity accounts for almost all energy use in public water supply systems, where it is used for pumping, flocculation, filtration, and feeding of coagulant and chlorine (Carns 2005). For this paper we report electricity use from survey respondents.

    Last, there are companies who serve both water and wastewater needs. We report findings for water process and wastewater process separately, but it is important to note that some companies have both services.

    Private Versus Public Water Companies

    The majority of water in the United States is supplied by municipal or public water and wastewater utilities, while approximately 16% of water companies are private. There are approximately 4,200 privately owned wastewater companies in the United States, which equates to about 20% of wastewater utilities (NAWC 2009). For the purpose of this survey, we partnered with NAWC, whose members are all private water and wastewater companies.

    NAWC’s members include privately owned and publicly traded drinking water utilities and wastewater services companies. They also serve professional water contracting companies. Their members are within the United States and include over 120 companies that range from very small businesses to companies with service territories covering multiple states. Their members serve over 90% of all private water customers.

    Often private water companies work in partnership with public entities. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are contractual arrangements that enable municipalities to outsource the management and operation of their water and wastewater systems. Several of NAWC’s member companies are working in partnership with municipalities…

    Energy Efficiency…Conservation…Joint Efficiency Programs…

    Conclusions

    The results of the survey show a similar range of energy intensity for potable water services, as we have seen in the past. Though our data sample was limited, we found that the data results were impacted by factors such as distance, elevation, water source, and company size.

    Last, there are additional opportunities for greater energy efficiency, water conservation, and joint program partnership. A few respondents have already taken advantage of these opportunities, charting the course for other companies to follow.

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