Smart water: New efforts target energy-water nexus issues


By Neil Strother

Pike Research


New cooling technology undergoing tests in Georgia holds the promise of reducing the electric power industry’s need for water - thus helping solve one of the tougher problems in the energy-water nexus.  Meanwhile, a separate study on two continents aims to unravel similar issues from the wastewater treatment perspective.


The testing of the cooling technology is taking place at the Water Research Center (WRC) at Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen, near Cartersville, Ga.  A team of researchers from 13 companies will test the technology, which is aimed at reducing power-plant water withdrawals and improving the quality of water related to power generation.


The scale of the problem deserves attention.  The U.S.’s thermoelectric power plants supply some 91% of the electricity in the country.  They operate by using heat (from a variety of possible sources including coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil, biomass, geothermal or concentrated solar) to create steam, which drives a turbine generator that must be cooled to condense the steam at the turbine exhaust.  It takes lots of water for that cooling process, amounting to 41% of all freshwater withdrawals and about 3% of freshwater consumption.


Net-zero energy for wastewater plants

In another effort focusing on the water-energy nexus, the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) has partnered with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to sponsor an 18-month investigation into net-zero energy solutions for wastewater treatment.  Energy costs for utilities treating wastewater can be high, and this study will explore ways utilities can work to reduce demand and to produce energy at treatment facilities to meet all of their own energy needs. 


The project has numerous players, starting with WERF contracting with Black & Veatch and partners Aecom, North East Biosolids and Residuals Association, Hemenway, and 23 utilities in the United States and Australia.  The researchers aim to identify both successes and obstacles in reaching energy-neutral wastewater facilities.


On their own, these two projects may end up as incremental steps to more efficient use of water and energy.  But sometimes it is these quieter baby steps that in time prove to have material benefits.  If smarter water usage can help make energy generation more efficient, it’s worth the effort.


Neil Strother is a senior research analyst contributing to Pike Research’s Smart Grid practice, with a focus on smart metering technologies and related business practices.


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