Driving a water-tight operation in challenging times

Demand on the world’s natural resources is becoming ever-greater. But what can be done to reduce water shortages and optimize operating efficiencies?

With the global population continuing to grow at a rate of around 83 million per annum, and projected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, demand on the world’s natural resources has never been greater. There is global need for clean, efficient, consistent flows of water at affordable prices as populations increase and global incomes improve. Water shortages, like those being experienced in Cape Town, South Africa, will become more commonplace around the world. We need to change our approach to harnessing this natural resource.

The key to providing a reliable flow of water for future generations – whether it is potable or in need of treatment – comes down to efficient pump control and energy usage. Rising energy costs as a consequence of inefficient water pumping is a major overhead for utilities. It can account for up to 30 percent of total running costs.

A simple initial step to improving water management is to conduct a comprehensive site survey that helps to identify where energy can be saved and electricity bills reduced. Traditionally, water utility companies have pumped water from one area to another using a fixed speed motor and pump, with a valve controlling the water flow in a pipe. This is a practice commonly known as throttling and it can be both inefficient for energy use and high risk due to human error: if valves are mistakenly left open or closed, this can lead to zero water pressure, or, worse still, flooding  or the contamination of clean water.

ABB has been working with water utilities for decades to help them become more productive and more efficient.  For nearly half a century, we have developed variable speed drives (VSDs) which have also been used in the water segment for a long time. A VSD works alongside a motor to run at a potentially lower speed, delivering energy savings of 30 to 50 percent depending on the application in use. For example, our ACQ580 drive for water and wastewater has built-in functionality that can control the water level in a tank in an energy efficient way, keep the pump impellers clean and eliminate the need for water flow sensors.

These features ensure that water or wastewater applications – such as a pump – are energy efficient, while protecting the process by highlighting the condition of the pipe network and pumps.  With reduced stress on the water network, the overall life span of the pumping system is extended, and the risk of unplanned maintenance costs are reduced. It’s possible to monitor the pump remotely to make it work more efficiently and predict when maintenance is needed.

A dedicated VSD, alongside a high efficiency motor, are powerful tools in our battle to harness the world’s natural resources more effectively. If we work together and focus on how we can use existing and new technology, we can drive change and meet the challenges the water industry faces not just today, but also tomorrow.


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  • Steve Ruddell

    Good blog James. Water leakage is also a massive issue for all water companies with up to ~40% of clean water simply leaking away during transportation to the user. Better control of pressure using drives can help address this terrible waste. Maybe your next blog can cover this topic?