Understanding when to accept risk and when to act to reduce life cycle costs

Understanding when to accept risk and when to act to reduce life cycle costs

Sector: Water Utilities

Challenge: Reducing Life Cycle Costs

Within a landscape of ever-changing regulatory outcomes and increased public interest in whether water companies are meeting targets, pressure is increasing on utilities to remain cost-efficient while enabling investment to prevent costly spills - and penalties - in the future.

This means a fine balancing act for water leaders and asset managers alike between tolerating risk in order to keep Capex low, while building resilience into the existing infrastructure.

With the effective operation of assets a key priority to avoid interruption to both water supply and wastewater removal, utilities can mitigate risks and reduce life cycle costs at the same time with the right equipment. Decision intelligence can highlight current and impending risks and allow water leaders to optimise individual assets or selected systems as needed, delivering improved outcomes along with lower operating costs.

Addressing costs within clean water treatment

Each stage of the life cycle offers opportunities to slash energy or people power wastage to save money and reputations. At the initial design phase, opting for high-quality assets that last can limit costs later on in the cycle, while at the operating phase increasing energy costs can be tackled with the right energy-efficient equipment.

Substantial savings on life cycle costs are also available at the maintenance stage, where monitoring solutions can identify and alert maintenance teams to potential problems to maintain the smooth operation of treatment works and distribution systems. For example, Xylem’s Water Loss Manager helps utilities reduce failures and make data-driven decisions on the reliability of assets, reducing replacement costs and cutting failures by up to four times.

How metering brings benefits for utilities

Resilience and reliability are key for clean water supply, with huge strides being taken to solve the technological challenge of reducing leakage. The latest smart metering solutions can help to measure water used or lost and save time and money. In one example, Xylem’s Sensus metrology helped Thames Water report 13% less water usage; with its communication solution delivering accurate and daily data reads from the entire network, it empowered customers to take control of their water usage as well as addressing water loss.

Huge energy savings can also be provided by the installation of variable frequency drives (VFDs) which automatically vary electric motor speed to optimise system performance over the life cycle and increase efficiency and mechanical reliability.

Managing risk to avoid spills and overflows

With growing scrutiny of flooding and pollution, including at a governmental level, understanding the condition of critical network assets can offer utilities the opportunity to act now to prevent future incidents and downtime. By mapping assets and harnessing the data they provide, agreed levels of risk can then be accepted or mitigated – with the option to increase the resilience of aging networks by focusing maintenance efforts and upgrades where they will bring the greatest benefit.

Smart solutions like self-cleaning pumps set a high standard for clog-free operation and solids control. Flygt N-pumps are one solution designed to handle the toughest wastewater and stormwater applications: the Adaptive N technology helps pumps avoid clogging, reducing unplanned maintenance to virtually nil and cutting energy bills to offer utilities sizeable savings over its life cycle.

Saving energy on wastewater treatment

Tighter use of Capex combined with stricter regulations on wastewater overflows is forcing utilities to do more with less. Yet treatment solutions exist that can overcome both challenges at once, such as the Sanitaire Taron which includes a Rotating Disc Dynamic Filter that combines secondary clarification and tertiary filtration in one complete step. This offers water companies the ability to achieve quality effluent while saving on budgets throughout its life cycle.

Better mapping and understanding of existing assets can also provide the opportunity to prioritise limited maintenance resources to tackle assets showing signs of wear and tear to avert a failure, spill or disruption to service. Targeting assets that most need replacement or servicing allows for better life cycle cost decisions. For example, with aeration consuming between 25% and 60% of the total energy used in a treatment plant, regular cleaning and maintenance of diffusers will ensure optimal performance, consistently effective treatment, and substantial energy savings.

Xylem's TSO treatment plant optimisation system realises savings by optimising energy usage and chemical consumption, ensuring regulatory compliance at less cost. By sensing conditions and adjusting accordingly via a real-time decision support system, it can routinely achieve significant energy reductions of between 25% and 30%.

Tackling the legacy of risk-based decision-making

Just as the challenges facing water companies are mounting, so are efforts to overcome them with advancements in technologies and data analytics bringing solutions capable of better managing assets with the lowest financial impact.

Smart solutions coupled with machine learning can gather and interpret data to offer precise information at each stage of an asset’s life cycle, meaning informed decisions can be taken on maintenance needs, energy usage and asset management.

If risks are taken to extremes, this can hugely increase life cycle costs at a time when utilities must be more cost-efficient on every decision. This is where understanding where hidden costs lie within the networks, and developing a programme of cost-effective maintenance of assets, can provide the greatest return on investment.

by Andrew Welsh, Sales Director - Water Utilities, Xylem Water Solutions