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Automation: the key to transforming the water and wastewater industry

Author : Stuart Foster is ABB’s UK water industry manager

02 February 2018

As the global demand for clean, safe and reliable water grows from rising populations and urbanisation, the water and wastewater industry face unprecedented challenges. ABB’s UK water industry manager, Stuart Foster explains.

Key among the challenges is the limited availability of freshwater coupled with a rising demand, increasing cost of energy and stricter anti-pollution laws and water quality standards.

Treating water is a particularly energy-intensive business. Yet because in many coun-tries water supplies have traditionally been unmetered, water usage is sometimes re-garded as effectively ‘free’, with no need to consider the energy that went into producing each litre. 

Furthermore, it is estimated that 15 percent of worldwide water use is industrial. All major industries rely on the unlimited availability of water as it is required by many processes and even forms a significant proportion of the final product. 

Demand for energy-efficient solutions

However, there is a new understanding that water and energy usage are interlinked, hence the growing demand for new, energy-efficient solutions. 

To enable industrial water users and utilities to optimise their reliability of supply, operational costs and environmental performance, smart water networks – containing ‘power train’ automation technologies like variable speed drives (VSDs), high-efficiency motors, automation systems and flow meters - will prove critical in driving performance and securing profitable growth.

The future demands a combination of innovative, smart approaches and expertise that secure water flow across a wide variety of applications. New innovations need to ensure cost efficient solutions for water and wastewater treatment that meets relevant standards and regulations both in emerging and mature markets. 

Digitalisation in the form of cloud services and big data brings new possibilities for optimisation of water operations. Smart water networks make use of sophisticated systems that are connected to each other via the cloud. It makes monitoring and optimising of water operations more efficient. Accessing real-time data for further analysis gives water utilities tools to provide real-time status and health information on crucial assets. This allows them to better manage and prioritise investment and maintenance.

These solutions enable companies to utilise new technology and local support and service to lower their total cost of ownership (TCO). 

Total cost of ownership (TCO)

Privatisation is a growing trend. It places pressure on water utility management to ensure cost efficient operation to meet budget targets. Lowering TCO is becoming a critical fac-tor. 

It is important to understand the full lifecycle costs of applications used in water automa-tion systems where the purchase cost of the product is just the tip of the iceberg. The cost of running the application and the cost of not running it must also be considered. Operators could lower their TCO from 10 to 25 percent by utilising a combination of VSDs and motors

More dedicated water industry solutions, such as ABB’s dedicated water drive, ACQ580, is set to optimise and lower the TCO for customers throughout the complete lifecycle of water from intake and distribution to waste discharge. 

Furthermore, by performing efficiency, productivity and/or reliability assessments to determine the most cost-effective improvements, the TCO can be further improved. 

Energy reduction

Digitalisation and new technologies improve energy-efficiency and reliability in municipal water treatment, desalination plants, pumping stations and water networks, industrial water supplies and irrigation schemes.

Reduction of energy use is vital. It results in clear cost savings for utilities in support of their TCO targets. The trends of the 3 Es - Efficiency, Environment and Expansion - focus on looking at things that drive growth within the water industry. These drivers include water reuse, reduction of non-revenue water, improving utility performance, prioritising investments in industrial and municipal wastewater treatment and how to meet the rising demand for safe and convenient water services.

As such, focus on energy saving has never been higher on the agenda than today. People have become increasingly aware of the cor¬relation between wasting energy and environmental damage and acknowledge the benefits of conserving energy by technical solutions. 

The biggest consumer of energy in water is the centrifugal pump like intake pumps, transfer pumps, booster pumps, sludge pumps, submersible pumps and progressive cavity pumps. Positive displacement pumps like screw pumps are also used. In addition to pump applications there are fans, aeration blowers and compressors. Wastewater applications include decanters, mixers and centrifuges.

Since water pumps typically run at partial load, huge energy savings can be achieved by controlling their speed with VSDs. The power required to run a water pump is roughly proportional to the cube of the speed, i.e. a small reduction in speed can make a big reduction in the energy consumption. A water or wastewater pump running at half speed consumes as little as one eighth of the energy compared to one running at full speed. By employing VSDs on pumps instead of throttling, the energy bill can be reduced by as much as 60 percent. Consequently, VSDs also help to reduce CO2 emissions.

Energy, productivity and reliability assessments

A good way to understand the installed base and to identify areas to improve energy efficiency is to undertake an energy assessment. Rather than assess every single application, a cost and time effective approach is to examine up to five motor-driven applications, which usually takes half a day. An executive summary will give an instant feed-back as to the potential kWhrs (or MWhrs) that can be saved by switching from direct-on-line control of motors to variable speed. While it is not possible to provide a definitive payback period, as it will vary from project to project depending on the specific application and motor size, normally a return on investment can be achieved from six months to two years. 

Similarly, productivity and reliability assessments can help use drives and motors to tackle issues such as water hammer, improve productivity of existing pumping systems, analyse remote data gathered from products for improved performance, prolong the life-time of the existing water utilities by carrying out life cycle assessments and manage harmonic mitigations. 

Digitalisation provides a real-time vision

Digitalisation provides a vision of a world that is connected and smart. In the water industry a growing number of embedded devices are now working together wirelessly either directly or via either the Internet ‘cloud’.

Naturally this bring concerns about cyber security. Therefore, it is vital to carry out rigorous evaluation and testing of all water industry operations against high security standards to help protect them from the possibility of cyber attack.

That said, the availability of real-time information enables operators to know how critical equipment such as drives, motors and flowmeters are performing. It also provides the basis for predictive maintenance. 

Innovations like the ABB Ability Smart Sensor is a condition monitoring solution that simply attaches to the frame of a low voltage IEC motor and provides critical condition monitoring data either over the Internet or via a smartphone app. It enables service teams to use mobile devices to check motor health and operating parameters like vibration, temperature and efficiency. 

Since many water processing sites are in isolated locations, remote monitoring utilising cloud-based digital solutions is becoming an increasingly important service. Under the name ABB Ability Condition Monitoring, VSDs offer the remote monitoring tool (NETA-21) to access condition data from the drive/pump.

Key facts

• By 2025 the world’s population will exceed 8 billion (source UN).

• 844 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water (source WaterAid).

• 2.3 billion people in the world – one in three – do not have a decent toilet (source WaterAid) sanitation.

• Global water market including total operational expenditure (opex) and capital expenditure (capex) by utilities and industrial water and wastewater companies estimated to be worth $714 billion in 2016 (source Global Water Intelligence report).

• Report anticipates average annual growth of 3.8 percent until 2020, with capex (5.3 percent) growing faster than opex (2.8 percent).

• A water or wastewater pump running at half speed consumes as little as one eighth of the energy compared to running at full speed.

• Employing VSDs on pumps instead of throttling can, in many cases, reduce energy costs by up to 60 percent.

• Operators could lower their TCO from between 10 to 25 percent by using VSDs and motors.


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