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Moving Toward Net Zero Energy

Summer 2013 Issue

Our nation's water and wastewater systems account for 12.6 percent of the country's energy use each year. This is equivalent to the amount of energy 40 million Americans use in a year. And we all know that energy costs are increasing. How can the water industry reduce its energy use and costs? The answer is through greater efficiency.

When people use less water, there is less wastewater to treat. So water conservation saves water and energy. In some instances, the link is obvious. In New York City, water use has been reduced by 300 million gallons per day through the use of low flow toilets. This water conservation measure also reduces wastewater and the energy needed to treat it. Such water conservation efforts could reduce the need, not just for additional water and wastewater treatment capacity, but for additional power plants as well.

On a related front, a number of wastewater facilities are also increasing efficiencies by producing their own power. Anaerobic digesters, biogas and cogeneration are all examples of using waste products to produce energy. The City of Jamestown uses gas from their anaerobic digesters to power two generators. The waste heat from the generators is then used to heat the anaerobic digesters. As wastewater facilities replace older equipment, the use of newer, more efficient technologies and systems can be expected to increase.

There are grant programs that support efforts by wastewater facilities to use less power for wastewater treatment. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's (NYSERDA) FlexTech Program identified opportunities for improved operating efficiency and energy conservation. This program provided funding for upgrades to the Gloversville-Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Plant in support of its move toward independence from the power grid. The program also worked with the City of North Tonawanda to identify, evaluate and determine energy savings through process wastewater, heating and ventilation modifications.

The Environmental Facilities Corporation (NYSEFC), which provides low interest loans for wastewater treatment improvements, works with NYSERDA on FlexTech reports to encourage water efficiencies. Also, the NYSEFC's Green Innovation Grant Program supports stormwater projects that will decrease the volume of stormwater entering sewer systems.

As these examples show, New York is becoming more energy efficient. I commend NYWEA for its efforts, including its hosting of the Energy Specialty Conference in November, to focus attention on new technologies, processes and resources that will support the sustainability of New York's water and wastewater management systems.