United Water continues to work towards ambitious energy reduction goals

Reduce

The United Water blog sat down with our company’s Energy Manager Elizabeth Watson to learn more about the goal to reduce energy usage by an additional five percent by the end of 2016. This goal is particularly ambitious since the company has already marked significant progress in this area:  since 2009, we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in our operations by 16.5 % and shown a 28.5% improvement in energy efficiency.

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Elizabeth Watson, United Water Energy Manager

Elizabeth Watson, United Water’s first Energy Manager, has a dirty, little secret: Most clean water in this country is delivered with the help of dirty, coal-burning power plants. That’s because water requires pumping, and pumps require electricity, and almost half of U.S. electricity is produced by burning coal.

Watson readily shares the secret in the hopes of pulling the plug on as much energy usage as possible. Right now, United Water uses 520 million kilowatt hours per year—enough to power 48,000 homes—to process and distribute water and wastewater. The company’s goal is to reduce energy usage five percent by the end of 2016. That’s enough energy to power 2,400 of those homes for a year.

Why is United Water so invested in reducing energy?

United Water cares a great deal about energy and sustainability, and we’ve done a lot over the years. We’re just stepping it up a notch. We already cut the company’s annual energy bill by $1.3 million and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 5,500 metric tons. But we still need to do more, and we are committed to make it happen to reduce energy usage by an additional five percent by the end of 2016! That is a very exciting project for us!

How is United Water going to meet this five percent reduction goal by 2016?

First, we can install more efficient equipment, such as pumps, blowers, lighting and heating; and operate existing equipment as efficiently as possible.

Second, we can expand our participation in so-called “demand response” programs in which the electric company pays United Water’s locations to curtail energy usage. Such requests usually come during the summer when electricity usage can be at its highest. However, during one recent winter, United Water agreed to shift some of its operation from the grid to its eight megawatt natural gas generators. By doing so, we already saved $400,000!

Our utilities in Pennsylvania, Idaho and New Jersey already participate in demand response programs and we recently enrolled our utility in New York and contract operation in Huber Heights, Ohio. We continue to identify areas where we can expand participation in these programs.  And we are raising awareness of this opportunity with our municipal clients.  Innovative energy management – resource optimization – can be a great tool for communities who are looking for ways to find the resources to finance infrastructure needs or alleviate debt burdens.

Third, we can increase our use of renewable energy. Two of our locations already use renewable energy: United Water Bayonne, which uses a wind turbine which went into service at the end of 2013, and United Water Pontiac, which began using a biogas system this year. Other initiatives, including hydropower, are in the works.

And fourth, we can shift some operations into later in the day when electricity tariffs are lower. That doesn’t lower our consumption, but it will save United Water money. United Water now spends about 10 percent of our operating budget on energy costs.

Is this going to require a lot of equipment updates and work from your team?

It will always take a lot of energy to produce and deliver clean water! So we must always look for ways to do so more efficiently! United Water employees are innovative by nature.  I have full confidence that they are up to the challenge!

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