Water Security Hinges on Reliability of Power

Water utilities are highly energy-intensive, with each step of the process that provides homes and businesses with clean drinking water requiring large amounts of power. The demands of pumping, water treatment and sewage processing collectively mean that energy costs make up a substantial proportion of overall costs for a water company.

These costs can be compounded when issues surrounding electrical operation of water systems impact on the delivery of water to customers or a utility’s environmental obligations. Power failure can disrupt the supply of drinking water to customers or result in untreated waste being released into the environment. In both cases, these events typically incur significant fines.

With many water companies already having some form of emergency power in place, often combined with on-site generation, an intelligent energy management system can be the ideal solution. This has the potential to turn a site into a smart microgrid able to operate independently of the grid, as well as giving greater oversight into how a site is operating and using energy, allowing new opportunities for improved efficiency and improvements to be identified more readily.

The Cost of Energy Resilience

Earlier this month saw the publication of the 2023 Environment Agency report on the environmental performance of England’s water and sewerage companies. The report included the figure that since 2015, the Environment Agency has secured fines totalling over £150 million against water companies. However, despite ongoing issues around pollution, customer satisfaction and water consumption, Ofwat confirmed in December that there is one area that all 17 of the UK’s water companies is currently performing well in: commitment levels to unplanned outage performance. All were assessed as having met their unplanned outage commitments for the second year in a row. 

Meeting this commitment comes with huge cost implications. Currently, around 3% of the UK’s total energy demand comes from the water industry, and the rise in energy costs coupled with increased political pressure over environmental performance and sustainability has driven many water companies into significant levels of debt. In the last week, major shareholders in both Southern Water and Thames Water provided substantial cash injections to service that debt. 

This leaves water companies with the complex challenge of reducing energy costs, meeting their carbon reduction commitments, and maintaining energy resilience. This complex mix of interlinked energy management challenges is sometimes referred to as the energy trilemma. 

Implementing a Smart Microgrid

Improving each aspect of their energy management without compromising the others requires a comprehensive overview of how a water company is currently using energy, including energy consumption and associated carbon emissions. This in turn can identify areas where improvements can be made, both in terms of cost reduction and better sustainability. This deeper understanding of existing infrastructure and assets, often paired with intelligent monitoring and management software, can also help to identify potential points of failure, as well as detecting faults before they impact on the resilience of the water system itself. Smart metering allows for real-time information about the performance of a system to be accurately collated and subsequently refined.

With the correct monitoring and management software in place, combined with effective power resilience delivered through a smart microgrid and battery energy storage, Powerstar can overhaul a water company’s energy management strategy. Reduced energy consumption via better efficiency and a reduced risk of failure saves on both energy and compliance costs. At the same time, it can also improve on other challenging areas including environmental performance, customer satisfaction and maintenance costs.

Find out more about Powerstar’s microgrid solutions here