The municipal water sector faces a number of challenges as water companies prepare to execute their business plans for the next Asset Management Period (AMP7) up to 2025. These include macro demographic and environmental changes as well as the demands placed on them by the regulator, Ofwat and customers.
In establishing its direction for the period up to 2025, Ofwat identified the three biggest challenges facing the sector – population growth, climate change and affordability for customers. The UK population is projected to continue to grow significantly over the next two decades. Much of this increase will be in London and the South East where Ofwat reports there is already less water per head of population than in Malawi. In addition to this, climate change will make water supply and wastewater management more complicated due to the ongoing trend of increasingly intense weather events with more droughts and further flooding. These challenges are compounded by the need to ensure that costs remain reasonable for customers – this means simply increasing spending is not an option. With one in five customers reporting that their bills are not affordable, Ofwat outlined this as a priority for water companies in England and Wales.
However, these are not the only issues that water companies face in planning for the future. Environmental targets alongside the need to improve customer service and relationships must also be factored in. Protecting the environment and improving the quality of rivers, lakes and bathing waters has driven the tightening of consent standards in many areas of the country.
To address these evolving requirements, one of the most important steps is for water companies to look at maximising the efficiency of their existing wastewater treatment assets and processes. Connected technology has made this easier as sensors can be installed on each piece of plant and even across the water network to monitor the performance of the systems. This data can also be used to optimise the wastewater treatment process. For example, our AQUAVISTA Plant cloud-based platform uses sophisticated algorithm-based optimisation to achieve as much as a 40% increase in biological load and facilitates between a 20% and 100% higher flow rate through the wastewater treatment process. This additional capacity means that operating expenses can be lowered, and capital expenditure can be reduced or even eliminated while still meeting the demands of the area.
Another important part of meeting the required standards while reducing costs is making the best use of resources. This includes using what has traditionally been considered waste products to reduce costs or even as a source of income.
The detrimental effects of phosphorus on the natural environment are well documented and understood. However, phosphorus is also a finite resource with no artificial substitute and many vital applications – especially in agriculture. Phosphorus recovery technology allows water companies to evolve their approach from simply removing it to utilising it. Phosphorus recovery technology involves the creation of struvite crystals (magnesium ammonium phosphate) by adding magnesium salts in highly concentrated orthophosphate wastewater as liquor from the sludge dewatering. The struvite is then separated from the water ready to be transported for reuse. This turns the cost of sludge disposal into a potential revenue generated from sludge treatment and the sale of the struvite.
Similarly, the now established concept of implementing a waste to energy solution can help reduce costs. The sludge produced by the wastewater treatment process can be processed further to extract bio-gas for use in a combined heat and power (CHP) plant or injected directly into the grid. This green energy can reduce reliance on other forms of fuel and lower operational costs and carbon. Enhanced sludge treatment processes such as Thermal Hydrolysis not only increase the volumes of biogas but also provide overall sludge volume reductions which in turn reduces energy and chemical consumption through improved sludge dewatering. It also lowers transportation costs associated with the final sludge disposal.
Finally, in managing municipal wastewater it is now crucial to consider customer relationships and the water company’s reputation. Anyone working within the sector will understand that water has never received more attention from the public. This has been driven by increased coverage from news outlets, more information freely available online and special interest groups focused on improving the quality of rivers, lakes and oceans. For example, the number of combined sewer overflows (CSO) required for wastewater management has been frequently brought to the attention of the public in recent years. Improving the capabilities of the treatment facilities can help water companies to demonstrate that they are taking steps to improve the environment for the local community.
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About the Author
Mike has worked in the Construction Industry for nearly 35 years, joining Veolia Water Technologies 25 years ago. He has held a number of senior commercial and operational positions for VWT over the years and has been Business Development Director since 2005. Mike has also been a Non Executive Director of British Water and past Chair of the UK Forum helping to represent the interests of British Water members and contribute on key industry issues.