Global water and wastewater utilities take aim at climate change

Water and wastewater utilities are executing ambitious decarbonisation goals, according to a new survey of 100 utilities in North America and Europe. Sponsored by global water technology group Xylem, the survey finds that 75% of respondents intend to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals by 2040 or earlier. 48% of respondents have set a net-zero emissions goal, and 42% have set an emissions reduction goal.

“The water sector has a role in the global effort to reduce GHG emissions,” said Patrick Decker, president and CEO at Xylem. “Our sector is energy intensive. However, smart application of technology makes it possible to manage water more efficiently and affordably. Increasingly, utilities are finding ways to deploy technology to become more resilient and reduce emissions, while also addressing operational concerns.”

The implementation of new products and solutions can help utilities advance their decarbonisation strategies. As highlighted in its 2022 Sustainability Report, Xylem technologies have enabled customers to reduce their CO2e footprint by more than 2.8 million metric tonnes since 2019. Around the world, leading water and wastewater utilities are focusing on such solutions to drive GHG reduction plans.

In Europe, for example, 31% of respondents plan on installing more energy-efficient technologies. Others are leveraging digital solutions, with 29% looking into advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and leak detection solutions, and 24% turning to treatment system optimisation technologies. Similarly in North America, 35% of respondents plan on implementing plant or asset optimisation technologies to advance their decarbonisation goals.

With 37% of North American respondents citing resilience to extreme storms and floods as a major concern, advanced digital solutions are also helping water managers improve operational and environmental outcomes at an affordable cost. Buffalo Sewer Authority (BSA), US, for example, saved US$145m by deploying a smart sewer system that reduced polluted water flowing into its rivers during storm events, solving a longstanding problem without spending on new infrastructure.

“To bridge resource gaps and serve our communities as efficiently as possible, we need to work smarter,” Oluwole McFoy, BSA general manager, said. “We have shown this technology is effective and can help ensure that Buffalo is more prepared for the changing climate and the more intense storms.”

Many utilities ranked process emissions — such as methane and nitrous oxide — close to last in their priorities for action, despite their impact, showing that a better understanding of this issue and technological innovation are needed to tackle total water-sector emissions.

The decarbonisation strategies being deployed by these utilities are captured in Xylem’s recent paper, Net Zero — The Race We All Win.