Water+Energy Part III: Four Technologies Reducing Industrial Energy and Water Waste

May 7, 2019

While water and energy industries have a frequently harmful, codependent relationship, this status quo can change. Technology provides an excellent way forward to sustainability and reduced waste in the energy and water industries.

From efficiency practices to IoT monitoring and retrofitted, integrated systems, energy technology trends and new water management practices keep our environment in better health. Here are four technologies reducing industrial energy and water waste.

1. Cogeneration or Combined Heat and Power

In Part II of this series, water waste showed up throughout the thermoelectric production process. With centralized energy plants – which tend to be large with low efficiency rates at approximately 50% – using the heat-energy byproducts of electricity production is difficult. Often the heat gets absorbed by cooling systems, such as once-through water-based cooling.

Cogeneration, or combined heat and power, is a distributed energy innovation that co-generates heat and power for consumers. These smaller thermoelectric plants are built closer to consumers, such as on campuses or within cities. At these smaller installations, the heat output can be captured more efficiently, around 75%, and delivered to consumer homes for water heating or to maintain public boilers. This reduces water waste by reducing the electricity needed by consumers to heat water as well as reducing water as a cooling system.

Cogeneration for wastewater treatment also increases efficiency. By burning biomass produced by anaerobic digesters that filter the water, treatment plants can output electricity to cover overhead costs and power pumps.

2. Advances in Solar Energy

Solar power systems are at an all-time high level of efficiency and capability. The Union of Concerned Scientists has publicly supported wind and solar installations to reduce water waste. If most thermoelectric power plants could derive power from these sources, as opposed to fossil fuels or even natural gas, water withdrawals could be reduced by up to 97%. Private corporations who have prioritized technology to reduce water and energy waste have seen the dividends prove their success.

Consider solar cells that are bifacial, absorbing light energy on both sides. This would take advantage of extremely reflective areas, such as dams on lakes or power plants frequently surrounded by snow in the winter months. There are also new cells that have maximized output through intelligent technology. Cells obscured by debris or clouds can trigger unobscured cells to work harder.

3. IoT Monitoring Along the Water Journey

IIoT monitoring offers a big return to water utilities. By using edge devices to track waterways, utility infrastructure or even consumer meters, water management companies can save on costs and energy.

In terms of power consumption reduction, IIoT water management gives the consumer and the utility fingertip control. Utilities can keep pressure at ideal levels. Meanwhile, consumers can keep water temperatures and volume demand dialed in to specific needs and preferences. At each stage of the water’s journey, IIoT collects data that increases control and optimizes use or handling. As a result, over-pumping, over-production and leaks can be minimized, saving water and electricity.

4. Integrating and Retrofitting Wastewater Treatment Plants

According to the EPA, retrofitting wastewater treatment plants can yield up to 50% energy savings. Xylem, Inc, a global leader in water utility technology, released a report in 2015 that detailed that newest isn’t necessarily best. By retrofitting various centers with previously released technologies using advanced integration tools, high efficiency can be achieved without creating more demand on wasteful endeavors, such as new buildings or pipelines.

New integrative tools include digitization, for tracking and controlled metering, as well as allocation of resources informed by Big Data analytics. High efficiency technologies include optimized pumping with built in parameters to prevent clogging and other process-based improvements that reduce excess motion.