Quenching industry's thirst: sustainable water and energy solutions make good business sense

Black & Veatch

By James Currie*
Thursday, 08 September, 2016


Quenching industry's thirst: sustainable water and energy solutions make good business sense

Establishing corporate management practices with a focus on water stewardship is critical. Risk from having too much or too little water is now a boardroom issue.

The CDP’s 2015 Global Water Report has found that almost two-thirds of over 1200 responding companies report exposure to water risk, with reported financial impacts in 2015 alone totalling more than US$2.5 billion.

According to the Singapore International Water Week 2016 conference proceedings, 'Water Technology Futures: A Global Blueprint for Innovation', the global industrial water market is expected to grow by a CAGR of 8% from US$19.9 billion in 2015 to US$26.2 billion in 2019.

Clearly, for countries like Australia that have experienced severe drought as well as flooding over the past few decades, aligning water utility conservation goals with the business goals of industrial partners is a critical step in managing this resource.

Reducing consumption is one option, while the other is identifying alternative water solutions that help close the water loop and create a more sustainable supply for commercial purposes.

Leading the pack

For decades, Australia has been tackling the impact of climate change and rising commercial demands for water through some world-leading planning and development of advanced water facilities and conservation programs. The country’s journey through the Millennium Drought (circa 2001 to 2009) was remarkable, made even more so as it coincided with a period of sustained economic growth in spite of the water crisis.

The water industry in Australia must continue to evolve and continue to lead sustainable thinking. Findings from ‘Black & Veatch’s 2016 Strategic Directions: Water Industry Report’ include insights from a number of Australian water leaders. Common across interviews was a belief that Australian water utilities need to rethink customer relationships and service provision: Have water utilities engaged domestic and industrial customers in the right way? Would a more customer-orientated mindset, enhanced by technology, improve water service provision?

Australia’s water sector leaders believe it is important for the country to establish a direct relationship between the value of water and what customers are paying for it. This is an opportunity to prioritise big data and the Internet of Things, and many opportunities could be realised through closer collaboration with large enterprise-level customers looking to solve real-world sustainability challenges.

The nexus of data and water

Let’s look at the engine behind big data and the Internet of Things: the data centre. The thirst for knowledge and greater access to information has seen approximately AU$5 billion invested in data centres in Australia over the last five years alone. There is a lot more room to grow too and the next generation of data centres in Australia will be built in less urbanised areas as most data centre development today has been centralised around capital cities.

Security issues along with improving power consumption — the density of power used by the servers — and other energy efficiency concerns are typical concerns of data centre developers. However, like big business in general, water concerns are rising up the boardroom agenda.

Large data centres need to pump millions of cubic metres of water a year through the facilities to keep the servers from overheating. A news report by Bloomberg last month on data centres cited that “high demand for water has some investors concerned, especially in places where natural water resources are becoming ever more precious”.

Integrated planning

Developments in California may hold valuable lessons for planning in Australia. One of the greenest complexes in the world is being planned for Monterey Bay. The Monterey Bay Regional Water Project will consist of a seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination facility and co-located 150-megawatt (MW) data centre campus. Cool water drawn up deep from a submarine trench will be used to cool the data centres and the project features many other sustainable innovations. It represents a clear example of how public-private partnerships and advanced collaborative thinking between water utilities and commercial parties can produce new, more sustainable outcomes.

With the California region currently facing a drought, desalination alongside other alternative water solutions is at the fore. Silicon Valley has in recent years embraced water recycling through the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center [see breakout box], which treats wastewater to different standards suitable for several applications including industrial processes, cooling water, landscaping, irrigation and recreation.

Such advanced wastewater treatment facilities have been built in Australia, most notably as part of the Western Corridor Scheme in Queensland during the Millennium Drought and also at facilities like the Eastern Treatment Plant in Melbourne, where the recently completed tertiary upgrade was a winner of multiple global water awards. Australian water professionals certainly have the capabilities and expertise to further the development of facilities to increase alternative water supply for industrial uses.

Eastern Treatment Plant Tertiary Upgrade Australia.

Collaboration between utilities and industry

In Asia, an example of engaging industry comes from Singapore, where encouraging sustainable practices by industry forms part of its integrated water supply management program.

Singapore’s challenge is to manage water costs while maintaining high service standards in water delivery and pushing for greater efficiency in water usage. In addition to tariff structures that encourage conservation, PUB designs specific outreach programs which aim to raise awareness and enhance the ability of water users to take their own steps to improve their water efficiencies on-site.

For example, PUB, together with the Singapore Economic Development Board, actively works with its large industrial water users to implement water management technologies and practices. Jurong Island, a self-contained industrial park in Singapore comprising many of the world’s leading energy and chemical companies, accounts for around 10% of Singapore’s water demand.

PUB, together with Black & Veatch, also analysed Jurong Island companies’ water management and future water needs for processing and cooling. The goal of the study and consultation was to identify cost-effective and sustainable solutions to optimise the use of local water resources as demand from users on Jurong Island is expected to increase.

The study highlighted alternative methods to improve water management practices on the island including identifying more opportunities for water recycling or re-use and using seawater rather than freshwater for cooling. Greater waste heat recovery was identified as a viable option for some companies to explore as the businesses examine their water management practices in more detail alongside other resource needs.

Reduce costs, increase revenues

CDP survey results reinforce the reality that prioritising water management strategic water stewardship efforts reduce operation risk, enhance strategic preparedness, improve investor appeal and make businesses more resilient.

Analysing information harvested through big data and the Internet of Things when planning for sustainable water solutions will keep enterprises ahead of the game. Enterprises that address the issue of resource security with an open mind will serve as early adopters for those who are preparing to minimise the effects of climate change through water and power resilience.

*James Currie is Associate Vice President and Managing Director at Black & Veatch Australia. Currie has over 30 years’ experience in water and wastewater engineering in UK, Asia and Australia. He is currently leading Black & Veatch’s water business in Australia. His recent project experience includes Melbourne Water’s Capital Framework and Eastern Treatment Plant Tertiary Upgrade, and the Deep Tunnel Sewerage Project Phase 2 in Singapore.

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10 opportunities identified to improve the sustainability of the Australian water industry

  1. Leveraging digital assets and new materials, such as self-healing polymers, for maintenance.
  2. Integrating between government departments to reduce cost and inconvenience; for example, by avoiding unnecessary digging up of roads for repairs.
  3. Improving water quality diagnostics.
  4. Engaging customers through using the collected data to create value for customers.
  5. Re-using waste energy to make processes more efficient and cost-effective.
  6. Trialling new treatment technologies at wastewater treatment plants.
  7. Easing regulatory reforms to allow more private sector participation.
  8. Encouraging private sector participation to facilitate innovation and new ways of doing things that could lead to a change in the business environment.
  9. Increasing use of robotics to supplement the future workforce.
  10. Including more technology systems and more young water professionals in industry changes.

Source: Black & Veatch’s 2016 Strategic Directions: Water Industry Report

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Case study: Keeping Silicon Valley businesses hydrated

Black & Veatch played a key role in increasing water supply throughout Silicon Valley, where big data needs are rising amid severe regional water shortages: a scenario not too dissimilar to Australia where water constraints remain top of mind.

The Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center (SVAWPC) is a regional approach and cooperative effort between the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the city of San José.

The SVAWPC is treating wastewater that otherwise would be discharged into San Francisco Bay; further treating it through microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light; and producing around 30 million litres a day of highly purified water for multiple re-use applications. The facility is a sustainable water resource that saves, and even possibly expands, the area’s precious drinking water supplies.

The improved recycled water produced by the SVAWPC will be used for irrigation, landscaping, recreation, cooling water and industrial processes. At full capacity, the plant can save approximately 11 billion litres of potable water each year, significantly reducing pressure on drinking water supplies. Black & Veatch’s services included preliminary and detailed design, construction and start-up.

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For more on Black & Veatch’s enterprise sustainability solutions, visit: bv.com/home/capabilities/service/Sustainable-Enterprise-Solutions.

Top image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/missisya

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