As we look ahead into our collective future with its rapidly growing human population and increasingly unstable climate, it’s pretty clear that meeting our energy, water and food needs is going to be a growing challenge. And since these three areas are so intricately linked in so many ways, not only do their challenges often impinge on each other, so do their solutions.
All the same, it is gratifying to see two major institutions, US EPA and General Electric forming an agreement to work together in search of improvements at the intersection of two of these critical areas: energy and water. The two have signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with a goal of producing the cleanest water using the least amount of energy.
The EPA estimates that approximately 4% of our nation’s electric power generation is consumed by municipal water systems. You can be sure there is a lot of waste built into that number. The thing about water is that it is heavy and it takes a lot of energy to pump it uphill, which is usually the direction it has to go.
Rocky Mountain Institute has done a lot of great energy efficiency work with water. The second largest component of energy usage in water systems after overcoming gravity is the friction generated when pumping large amounts of water through pipes that are too small. Yet there are countless cases where smaller pipes, which cost less to install initially, generate significantly higher operating costs, because of the power required to pump water through them.
GE’s water expertise is built around intelligent solutions to water and wastewater handling applications.
In a way it’s a lot like the electronic control systems that now exist under the hood of all modern automobile engines. They help to improve efficiency and reduce pollution by sensing pressures and flow rates and the chemical composition of the various inflows and outflows and sending that information to a centralized control computer which utilizes it to obtain optimal results. The result is cleaner water out with less energy in.
GE software-based solutions monitor water quality at various points throughout the process. As a result they can process more efficiently while avoiding unnecessary processing. They estimate that their systems can reduce energy consumption by 10-15%.
If applied across the board, that could reduce national power consumption by 0.5% which is a significant amount.
But there’s a hidden beauty to all this. Since electric power plants are the largest users of water in the U.S., cutting electricity demand in the water sector will, in turn, help cut power plant water use which further reduces the use of both energy and water. .
Seems like a win-win, no matter how you look at it.
RP Siegel, PE is co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails.
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