Water companies are challenged to find a 20% reduction in operating costs. Andrew Reeks from Siemens Industry Automation believes they should take a holistic approach to the deployment of technology and outlines three areas where automation can help achieve operating cost reductions

Every business is under pressure to perform as efficiently as possible, with the water industry being no exception. Regulatory and shareholder scrutiny, as well as increasing consumer demands on the back of the predicted future opening up of a competitive water market, all add to the need to ensure the performance of water companies is truly optimised.

It is generally accepted that water companies are looking to make up to 20% savings in their operational costs. Automation can help make such reductions a reality in three areas: energy consumption, chemical procurement and labour use. 

Labour savings

Starting with labour, it is well known that the system performance at outlying unmanned pumping stations can be put under great strain, particularly in extreme weather or storm conditions.  Traditionally, engineers visited such stations to check on the condition of the pumps. The installation of flow meters at the pumping station, which are then linked back to a SCADA system, can provide immediate feedback and data concerning the daily performance of the pump station – including whether there had been deterioration in the condition of the pumps. A quick and accessible picture is then to hand via the monitoring data supplied by the flow meter technology.  Such data can also be used to support efforts to instill a pro-active and predictive maintenance strategy, with feedback from sensors in the field used to provide condition based monitoring and improve operational efficiencies.

With the cost of sending an engineer to an outlying station set at approximately £180 per visit, it is clear labour cost savings can be made by implementing intelligent flowmeters.

This issue is set to become even more pertinent with the forthcoming transfer of private sewers and private lateral drains to become the responsibility of water companies under the new Sewers for Adoption 7 initiative.  This will add to existing water company networks, with some, such as Anglian Water, estimating an addition of 50% to their sewerage infrastructure. And with a larger network comes additional responsibility. 

Energy consumption

With energy prices predicted to rise by up to 50% over the next few years, it is vital that a holistic approach to energy management becomes part of the fabric of high energy users such as the water industry. By first analysing where consumption is occurring and to what degree, management decisions can then be made. Most companies could save 20-30% of their energy consumption using measures that pay back within three years. Intelligence-led control systems provide a clear energy picture across the process, including the energy levels consumed by different elements.

A lot of work has already been done to address energy usage – such as the implementation of variable speed drives at water plants, but it is important to ensure that such processes are constantly reviewed.  In areas of high energy use such as aeration filtration processing, while the variable speed drive and motor may be optimised, it is also important to consider if the process is running inefficiently. Excess energy volumes maybe being consumed to control the process and regular reviews and predictive maintenance strategies can help optimise overall energy consumption levels.  

In addition, plant managers should ask if all energy parameters which could be measured, monitored and optimised are being done so. This could include the process measurements for dissolved oxygen, air flows along with the pump data, running currents, and the efficiency of the blowers to name but a few. Monitoring and measuring from an integrated standpoint using control technology can help operators understand and then unlock the potential for energy cost savings.

Chemical procurement

Another significant cost area for water companies is that of chemicals used in the treatment and supply process.  Dosing takes place across the network, but again having a clearer and more accurate understanding of the network’s performance can help control the actual levels of dosing required and by association, optimise expenditure.  Measurements taken out in the field and then fed back to the overall control system can help determine accurate requirements of dosing, as opposed to a more generalist approach.  Just small percentage savings in the levels of chemical used can have a big impact on the chemical purchase bill. This can be achieved using technology that places the performance and consumption data from out in the network back into the hands of the central control operators.  

Adopting a joined-up strategy to automated control technology, rather than a piecemeal, ad hoc and isolated one,  can deliver in terms of an holistic and accurate view of processes and performance, helping achieve operational cost savings. Such an integrated approach can help water companies hit the challenging 20% operational cost savings they seek.

Siemens Industry Automation

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