Water Utilities Need Holistic View of Energy Consumption, says Report

The Water Research Foundation’s Toolbox for Water Utility Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emission Management aims to develop a global framework for energy use and greenhouse gas emission (GHG) assessment for the water industry.

There is a close link between energy and water consumption: the water-energy nexus. For many components of the urban water cycle, energy is the number one operational cost after staff, and is the number one source of GHG emissions. Energy management and GHG accounting tools are proliferating. However, because they are typically developed in response to differing location and sector-specific needs, no universally accepted methodologies that support the unique needs of the water sector currently exist, according to the Water Research Foundation.

Water utilities around the world are responding to energy-use pressures and GHG reporting needs differently. This variability is driven by three fundamentally different situations that water utilities are facing with respect to GHG reporting and energy use requirements: (i) regions with clearly mandated regulatory reporting requirement for either/both GHG and energy, such as the UK; (ii) regions with uncertain or complex regulatory reporting requirements, where some combination of national, state/provincial and voluntary requirements have created a mixture of standards and reporting requirements, such as in the US and the EU; and (iii) regions without regulatory reporting requirements but with some pressure to monitor or reduce GHGs or energy use, such as South Africa and Singapore.

In the first type of environment the reporting standards are clear and tools are in place to enable this reporting. In the second and third types of environment the reporting requirements are unclear and present a variety of options for protocols, methodologies and available tools.

Among the recommendations is to develop methodologies and tools that represent the full range of GHG emissions associated with the urban water cycle or a whole-systems level analysis of emissions. At present most methodologies address GHG emissions from a selected subset of the urban water cycle, such as sourcing, storing, treating and distributing drinking water or treating wastewater, but do not address the water cycle holistically.

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