This piece was originally published in the August 2018 issue of electroindustry.
Alex Boesenberg, Senior Manager, Government Relations, NEMA
Although water is easily dismissed as not related to energy, that is far from the case.
Thousands of horsepower are required to pump water reliably over hundreds of miles of utility piping to commercial and residential customers who expect nothing less than clean, fresh water delivered at sufficient pressure when they open a tap. The reliable delivery of potable water also involves metering, controlling, and maintaining water utility systems, spread out over many square miles.
Most ownership models (e.g., private, for-profit, and municipal) do not lend themselves to upgrades and efficiency. Cost management and the immediacy of casualty repair lead to systems that are built or repaired to designs that lack the ability to thoroughly diagnose, monitor, and control energy and water consumption. While highly controllable water utility system equipment exists, it is not sold as frequently as it might be because of cost sensitivity.
Enter energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs). When planned and executed well, a partnership between utility owners and operators and an energy service company (ESCO) enables an excellent balance of business realities and energy efficiency. The ESCO model is not new, but its application to the water sector continues to grow.
The arrangement creates a win-win situation:
- A contractor is empowered to select the best and most capable components for a system that can be efficiently monitored and administered.
- The contracting owner sees reduced energy consumption, improved performance, and, because of the way many contracts are written, clear, budget-friendly energy cost figures for yearslong budget cycles.
Increased use of digitally linked sensors facilitates monitoring and control. Leak detection is improved and proper long-term management of large capital assets (especially pumps and electric motors) helps managers both forestall and foresee maintenance needs in advance of breakdowns.
The age of existing capital systems also lends them to energy upgrades in other areas, such as lighting, where LED retrofits of older, less-efficient technologies can provide significant savings to offset other long-payback capital purchases like large electric motor/pump installations. There are few secrets related to accomplishing these broad, component-partnering upgrades, but all too often they are impeded by obstacles in local planning and budgeting processes.
NEMA is encouraged by the continued interest and investment in ESPCs for water utilities. ESCOs can provide useful proposals, and water utility owners seeking to make their own investments can use online materials, such as the reports and findings from NEMA’s 2015–2016 Strategic Initiative for Increasing Energy Efficiency in Urban Water Systems, available on the NEMA website.
Learn more at www.waterenergytoolkit.org.