Looking for Significant Energy Savings

Looking for Significant Energy Savings

This piece was originally published in the June 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

Alex Boesenberg, Manager, Government Relations, NEMA


In 2014, the NEMA Board of Governors authorized a strategic initiative to investigate the interrelationship of energy use in the water sector and water use in the energy sector. Examples of water use in the energy sector include the obvious (e.g., hydroelectric generation) as well as the less-well known (e.g., evaporative cooling needs of clean coal technology).

Since there are more than 50,000 water utilities in the United States of varying age, capacity, and material status, NEMA targeted the use of electricity in water sourcing, treatment, and delivery sectors. A better understanding of the condition, needs, and age of the U.S. water infrastructure will help identify opportunities for NEMA members.

Because individual modernization efforts and examination of energy consumption and water movement are site-specific, no central database of component-level energy savings information exists. While there have been some macro-level examinations of this sector, NEMA’s component-level energy study appears to be the first of its kind.

In 2015, NEMA hired GEI Consultants Inc., an experienced water consultancy, to assist in examining and analyzing energy-efficiency opportunities with national water utilities. The investigation included

  • a literature review;
  • the examination and documentation of federal and state financial and incentive programs;
  • a survey of water utilities to gather data on utility operations, approval processes, and, where possible, detailed energy consumption; and
  • data analysis to determine opportunities for greater efficiency through modernization and how they could be incentivized, proposed, approved, and, to some degree, implemented.

Survey Overview

GEI’s efforts were guided by a joint working group of manufacturing experts, including NEMA members and volunteers from the Hydraulic Institute (HI) and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. HI also contributed funding and expertise.

In its literature review, GEI scoured hundreds of existing reports and studies from federal and state sources. Technical and financial analysts used these resources to investigate energy consumption, water throughput and consumption (utilities always source, transport, and treat more water than they use), and related energy-water metrics.

In early 2016, GEI surveyed more than 3,000 water utilities; 65 utilities responded with varying degrees of information. The results made several points clear:

  • Utility ownership and decision-making structures vary greatly
  • Energy and water savings may not directly benefit a utility
  • Most utilities lack the metering to delve deeply into their process-level energy consumption metrics

On a positive note, many utilities are interested in learning more about energy- and water-efficiency solutions from a trusted source.

The study concluded that detailed component-level energy and age information was not reasonably possible given utilities’ lack of process-specific energy data and a lack of detailed materiel inventory information. While this is a clear indication of the opportunity for metering and for control- and software-based management systems, it also means that our initial intentions to pursue process-level quantification and estimates of energy savings potential were more difficult than anticipated.

Conclusions from the study confirm that significant energy and water savings in the water utility sector are possible and financially viable. However, the challenges of ownership and decision-making processes, as well as the lengthy planning-to-execution timelines, may not make detailed energy-savings estimates as useful to increasing product sales as initially believed.

Furthermore, the specification and selection process may not be within the control of onsite utility management. The study also revealed that utilities are interested in knowing more about available products and solutions tools and workforce training and development resources.

Asking Better Questions

As the manufacturers of the majority of the equipment used by water utilities, NEMA and HI members are the best source for product selection, installation, operation, and maintenance information. Better-informed end users will ask better questions of specifiers and designers with respect to equipment selection, site design, and construction, and they will operate and maintain the equipment more effectively.

While it might be attractive to continue in-place field studies of before and after energy consumption, since curiosity persists, the greater good may lie in forging stronger ties between product manufacturer information sources and their end-use customers. Since NEMA members have training and information available, the 2016–2017 effort of the energy-water strategic initiative will be to explore this potential and begin establishing bonds with utility planners and engineers to the benefit of both sectors.

Mr. Boesenberg has two decades of experience in applied systems engineering practices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.