Water Utilities Embrace Innovative Decarbonization Strategies

by | May 19, 2023

An overhead shot of water utilities.

(Credit: Canva Pro)

Water and wastewater utilities are taking significant steps towards achieving decarbonization solutions, as revealed by a recent survey conducted across North America and Europe.

Sponsored by water technology company Xylem, the survey highlights that 75% of the participating utilities aim to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals by 2040 or even earlier. Moreover, 48% of utilities have set a net-zero emissions target, while 42% have established specific emissions reduction goals. 

As Patrick Decker, president and CEO at Xylem, points out, the water sector plays a crucial role in the global effort to reduce GHG emissions. The sector is energy-intensive, but with the intelligent application of technology, water management can become more efficient and cost-effective. Increasingly, utilities are adopting technology to enhance resilience, reduce emissions, and address operational concerns simultaneously.

Harnessing Innovative Decarbonization Ideas

To advance their decarbonization strategies, water utilities are embracing new and innovative products and solutions. Xylem has demonstrated how cutting-edge technologies can help customers reduce their carbon footprint significantly. Since 2019, Xylem’s solutions have enabled customers to reduce their carbon emissions footprint by more than 2.8 million metric tons. This achievement highlights the potential for similar advancements across the industry, the company said.

Utilities in Europe and North America are actively adopting different approaches to achieve their decarbonization goals. In Europe, 31% of the respondents plan to install energy-efficient technologies. Additionally, digital solutions such as advanced metering infrastructure and leak detection systems are being explored by 29% of utilities, while 24% are turning to treatment system optimization technologies.

Similarly, in North America, 35% of utilities are considering plant or asset optimization technologies to drive decarbonization efforts. A significant concern for 37% of North American respondents is the resilience to extreme storms and floods. In response, advanced digital solutions are helping water managers improve operational and environmental outcomes while remaining cost-effective.

Success Stories: Smart Applications in Action

The implementation of advanced digital systems has yielded impressive results for some utilities. For instance, the Buffalo Sewer Authority in the United States achieved significant cost savings of $145 million by deploying a smart sewer system. This innovative platform effectively reduced the flow of polluted water into rivers during storm events, thus addressing a long-standing issue without the need for expensive infrastructure development.

The survey results indicate that many utilities rank process emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide, lower in their priorities for action. However, it is crucial to understand and address the significant impact of these emissions to achieve comprehensive reductions across the water sector. This highlights the need for better awareness and technological innovation to tackle process emissions effectively.

With a focus on process emissions and continued technological advancements, the water sector can play a pivotal role in global decarbonization efforts.

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