Keep Pace with the Transforming Energy Market

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Most water and wastewater facilities in North America were built decades ago with little, if any, consideration or attention given to energy use or energy efficiency. Now, water and wastewater utilities spend approximately $4 billion each year on energy costs. For wastewater specifically, energy usage represents up to 30 percent of total operation and maintenance costs, and as energy costs rise so do operating costs. In fact, energy is the largest controllable cost of providing water and wastewater services to the public, so progressive wastewater agencies are recognizing the benefits energy efficiency programs can deliver at their facilities.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), water and wastewater facilities can be among the largest consumers of energy in a community, with equipment operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a whole, water/wastewater treatment accounts for approximately three percent of the nation’s energy consumption. By implementing energy efficiency measures, wastewater facilities have the potential to save a significant amount of energy and realize related cost benefits spanning maintenance and materials.

Take for example a facility looking to upgrade its treatment equipment – a project most facilities will undertake in the next several years because of the industry’s aging infrastructure. Many codes require new equipment to be able to operate at the projected peak condition in 20 years, which means equipment purchased in 2018 will need to be able to handle 2038 projected peaks even if today’s peak is only 25 percent of that amount. A facility may choose to purchase one large machine to handle the full 2038 peak and operate this machine at full capacity for its useful life. However, if the facility purchases four smaller machines, it can run one machine at full capacity to meet the current peak and ramp up the additional machines as load increases. It is still meeting the code requirements, but it is saving on energy, maintenance, and materials by only running at the capacity it needs. The forethought put into this purchasing decision will decrease operating/energy costs for the facility for years to come.

First Steps for Energy Efficiency Upgrades

But how do wastewater utilities know what purchasing decisions will have the greatest impact on energy costs? For facilities wanting to realize the benefits of energy efficiency, it can often be overwhelming to identify where to start. Which projects should be implemented first? Which will provide the greatest return? Which will have the fastest payback period?

To answer all of these questions, facility managers must assess the current operations, identify efficiency upgrade options, analyze the energy savings of those options, and estimate the payback period. The first steps to manage your facilities energy consumption should be:

  1. Perform a facilities assessment: Become aware and familiar with how much energy various processes and operations use and when, where, and how the energy is used
  2. Develop a baseline: Measure the amount of energy currently used by the facility or system
  3. Identify and assess energy efficiency opportunities: Include data from energy bills, demand consumption, equipment specifications, water quality requirements and other sources to analyze the opportunities thoroughly
  4. Develop a benchmark: Calculate the amount of energy the facility or system would use to meet its water quality requirements if all of the energy efficiency measures were implemented
  5. Identify an internal energy advocate: This individual can help secure management support and spearhead the implementation of the energy efficiency modifications
  6. Develop an ongoing energy efficiency program: Create a process to regularly assess the energy consumption and identify new energy efficiency opportunities

Taking into account the specialized equipment, specific wastewater codes and regulations, and wide variety of upgrade options, most facilities turn to experts who have in-depth experience helping other utilities navigate this process.

Leidos has worked with wastewater facilities across the country to manage the assessment process. As an independent third party, Leidos provides unbiased evaluations to help facilities analyze and prioritize energy efficiency projects. Our team of wastewater energy efficiency experts act as trusted advisors to help these facilities realize the maximum efficiency benefits. In fact, many of the energy efficiency upgrades Leidos has identified for wastewater facilities pay for themselves in three to five years generally, with some as short as less than a year.  

For more information on all of Leidos’ energy efficiency services, visit

Joe Cantwell is a senior engineer with more than 40 years of experience in the planning, design, operation, and marketing of water/wastewater capabilities to local, state, and federal agencies, as well as private sector entities. He is presently the water/wastewater energy efficiency and renewable energy (biogas) program manager for the Wisconsin Focus on Energy program, a multi-year project to identify, assess, and implement methods to achieve energy efficiency and market transformation. He is also a technical reviewer for renewable energy projects for wastewater applications.