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Energy Efficiency: On the Road to Net Zero Energy

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On the Road to Net Zero Energy Exit 1: Evaluate Your Efficiency Exit 2: Optimize Your Operation Exit 3: Update & Improve Exit 4: Find Funding

Drinking water and wastewater systems account for approximately 3 percent of energy use in the United States, adding over 45 million tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere annually. Further, for municipal governments, drinking water and wastewater plants are typically the largest energy consumers, accounting for 30 percent of total energy consumed. Energy, as a percent of operating costs for drinking water systems, can reach as high as 40 percent and is expected to increase 20 percent over the next 15 years due to population growth and enhanced drinking water regulations.

So what’s the good news? There are "readily achievable" energy-saving opportunities in water and wastewater plants. Typically, these strategies have substantial financial returns, in the thousands of dollars, and have short payback periods (a few months to a few years).

As a Wastewater Plant Operator or Manager you may ask yourself: Where do I begin?
  1. Start by taking some time to read through the EPA Energy Management Guidebook (PDF) (113pp, 1.2M, About PDF). This guidebook was developed by facility operators and engineers for facility operators and engineers.  This Energy Management approach is successfully used in facilities.
  2. With the help of the guidebook you can gain management buy-in and develop a successful Energy Management Program.  Tthis program is much like an Asset Management Program or Maintenance Program. 
  3. Set realistic goals. For example, set a plant-wide goal of saving 5% in electricity cost by the following year. **Take your time. Plan. Start small and keep the Energy Management Guidebook handy.
  4. After goals are set, buy-in from management achieved, and the guidebook read and understood, you’re ready for the next step, the Road to Net Zero Energy.

To help guide you towards your facility’s energy saving goals, a road map is provided here. The road map has 4 exits.

EXIT 1 – Evaluate Your Efficiency (How efficient are the mechanicals at your facility?)

EXIT 2 - Optimize Your Operation (Do the best you can with what you have)

EXIT 3 - Update and Improve (Low to high cost projects – premium pumps to solar panels)

EXIT 4 - Find Funding

And once you've gone through the road map, Share Your Success with us!

You can also read through a brief article titled, "Road to Zero Net Energy for Wastewater and Drinking Water Facilities."

For more information please feel free to contact EPA Region 3's Walter Higgins at 215-814-5476 or by email at higgins.walter@epa.gov.

Benchmark your facility
and complete an energy audit.

Exit 1: Evaulate Your Efficiency

Understand Your Electric Bill. The first step is to get a copy of your energy usage statements for your records. What is your total usage? What is your peak demand?

Here is some general information about your electric bill. (2 pp, 87K) About PDF)

Benchmark Your Facility. Where are you now? Where are you compared to similar facilities? EPA offers two tools to help you.

Some of these links leave EPA.gov to visit our partner sites for more information. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

A reliable way drinking water and wastewater systems benchmark energy usage is by using EPA's Portfolio Manager, This tool also offers wastewater treatment plant managers the ability to compare the energy use of their plants with similar plants using an energy performance rating system. Training is available for this tool here.

EPA's Energy Use Assessment Tools has just been released to the public. This tool is geared to small - medium sized water adn wastewater facilties. This Excel-based tool that can be used to conduct a utility bill and equipment analysis to assess individual baseline energy use and costs.
Energy Use Assessment Tool (XLS) (4.1MB)
Energy Use Assessment Tool with example Data (XLS) (4.25MB)
Energy Use Assessment Tool User's Guide (PDF) (67 pp, 1.5MB)

In addition, some energy companies allow you to view and track your energy usage on the web through your facility's online account. Contact your energy company for more information.

Complete an Energy Audit:

What is an energy audit? Essentially, energy audits are an analysis of energy flows within a building or a process. They are generally conducted to identify areas where improvements can be made in energy performance and can assist in prioritizing the most cost effective energy efficiency improvements. A good energy audit has a detailed, process specific component along with equipment and building components.

Note: Just remember to think outside the box! There are many non-traditional modifications that can be made are plant specific. Also, as an operator or manager, you know your plant better then an outsider. Become involved and make your voice is heard.

Typical questions that should be answered by the auditor: What equipment is inefficient and what are the options for upgrading? What's the payback on the more efficient upgrade? What energy saving processes or procedures can I implement for little or no cost?

Here is some helpful information:
How to Hire an Energy Auditor (PDF) (68 pp, 359K)
Do It Yourself Small Wastewater Treatment Plant Energy Audit Checklist (PDF)(2 pp, 415K)
Do It Yourself Small Water Treatment Plant Energy Audit Checklist (PDF) (1 pp, 356K)

Note: Also to be considered are Renewable Energy Assessments. What types of renewable energy would work for my facility?

Are there financial/technical resources available to support energy audits?
Yes, there are resources available in the Mid-Atlantic Region which support free or reduced rate energy audits. These services are offered through federal, state and local governments, as well as utilities. Private companies also offer energy audit services for a fee.

For a list of audit funding resources, skip to EXIT 4

Or continue on your way to "Optimize Your Operation", EXIT 2.

For more information please feel free to contact EPA Region 3's Walter Higgins at 215-814-5476 or by email at higgins.walter@epa.gov.

Do the Best that you can
with what you have.

Exit 2: Optimize Your Operation

Note: By inputting your facility's monthly energy usage into EPA's Portfolio Manager you will be able to determine the effectiveness of your energy-saving projects.Typical energy-saving areas include.

  • Nutrient Control
  • Process Control
  • Water Loss Reduction
  • Inflow & Infiltration Correction
  • Water Use Reduction
  • Instrumentation/Automation
  • Better maintenance. Repair leaks.
  • Dissolved Oxygen (DO) monitoring. Reduce DO set-points in activated sludge and aerobic digester.

Now that you have an idea of the effectiveness of your program, continue on your way to Update and Improve, EXIT 3.

For more information, please feel free to contact EPA Region 3's Walter Higgins at 215-814-5476 or by email at higgins.walter@epa.gov.

Time to prepare your capital projects.

Exit 3: Update & Improve

The facility audits are complete. time to prioritize your capital improvement projects. EPA's Energy Management Guidebook can help you with this process.

Note: Benchmark with Portfolio Manager

What types of improvements can be made to save energy?
There are many technologies available to improve energy efficiency and generate renewable energy at a plant. EPA's Evaluation of Energy Conservation Measures for Wastewater Treatment Facilities (222 pp, 7.08MB) report focuses on energy efficient equipment replacement, operational modifications, and process control enhancements that lead to improved energy efficiency and cost savings with reasonable payback periods (10 years or less).

Other Energy Efficient Technologies and Practices

  • Fine-bubble diffusers and aeration systems that can lower energy costs by 25 percent or more.
  • Automated control systems that control pump operations, monitor pump efficiencies and shift loads to off-peak times.
  • Upgrade pumping and blower systems, including premium efficiency motors, variable frequency drives and optimal sizing and sequencing to greatly reduce wire-to water ratio.
  • UV irradiation systems that can lower capital and operating costs while reducing hazardous chemical risk.
  • Increased sludge dewatering that can reduce sludge transportation and disposal costs - Chemical addition.
  • Upgraded HVAC systems
  • Lighting improvements
  • Operating and Maintenance practices, training, and metering equipment.

Renewable Energy:

Continue on your way to Find Funding, EXIT 4

For more information please feel free to contact EPA Region 3's Walter Higgins at 215-814-5476 or by email at higgins.walter@epa.gov.

Find Funding and Resources using these links.

Exit 4: Funding and Resources

    Are there resources available to assist in implementing improvements?

    Yes, many states in the Mid-Atlantic region offer resources for implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions. Operator and maintenance trainings are also available.

    Financing Energy Projects Webinar Series:

    EPA’s Local Climate and Energy Program conducted a three-part webcast series to help local governments learn how to secure adequate and sustained financing for their clean energy initiatives.

    Part I (“Getting Started”) of the series discussed how to design and implement funding programs, line up partners, and gain support for clean energy programs through both conventional and non-conventional methods. Part II (“Getting it Funded”) discussed how to locate available sources of funding, and Part III (“Keeping it Going”) discussed how to leverage existing funds and make clean energy investments more affordable for clean energy program audiences.

    U.S. EPA

    Some of these links leave EPA.gov to visit our partner sites for more information. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer
    The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) programs are an innovative method of financing a range of environmental projects. Under the program, the EPA provides grants or "seed money" to all 50 states plus Puerto Rico to capitalize state loan funds. The states, in turn, make loans to communities, individuals, and others for high-priority water-quality activities. This is a list of Mid-Atlantic SRF State Contacts.

    EPA Catalog of Federal Funding Sources for Watershed Protection - The Catalog of Federal Funding Sources for Watershed Protection website is a searchable database of financial assistance sources (grants, loans, cost-sharing) available to fund a variety of watershed protection projects. To select funding programs for particular requirements, use either of two searches below. One is based on subject matter criteria, and the other is based on a general word search of the funding programs.

    U.S. Department of Energy - The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) web site provides information about renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives and policies in the United States. Relevant incentives and policies established by the federal government, state governments, local governments, utilities and non-profit organizations are included in DSIRE.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture - Through Rural Development Water and Environment Programs, rural communities obtain the technical assistance and financing necessary to develop drinking water and waste disposal systems.

    U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program is a flexible program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs.

    Other Funding Sources

    The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government.

    The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) provides short-term financing to eligible applicants for pre-development costs associated with new water and wastewater projects.

    The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) makes short-term loans at below market interest rates to local nonprofits, for profits and government entities developing affordable housing for low-income, rural residents.

    Delaware Energy Program(s)
    The DE Green Energy Program provides grant money for installation of renewable sources of energy.

    The Sustainable Energy Utility is a nonprofit corporation managed by a contract administrator that develops end-user markets for efficiency and conservation, customer-sited renewable energy, and affordable energy services for low and moderate income familes.

    Maryland Energy Program(s)
    Jane E. Lawton Conservation Loan Program (JELLP) provides local governments, nonprofits, and businesses a unique opportunity to reduce their operating expenses by identifying and installing energy conservation improvements. The program is open continuously throughout the fiscal year to accept applications, and JELLP staff is available to work with applicants in completing the application forms and explaining program requirements.

    Commercial Clean Energy Grant Program:The Maryland Energy Administration is tasked with achieving the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Currently, the RPS requires that 20% of energy sold in Maryland in 2022 come from qualified renewable energy resources.

    The Windswept Program provides grants for residential and non-residential wind energy systems. Residential systems must have a capacity of at least 1 kilowatt (kW) and non-residential systems must have a capacity of at least 1.5 kW to qualify for assistance. Approved projects will receive a grant of $2,500/kW of capacity, up to a maximum of $10,000 (current incentive levels as of July 1, 2008).

    Pennsylvania Energy Program(s)
    The PA State of Innovation website helps find incentives for projects such as low interest loans and grants.
    Several utilities within the state have Sustainable Energy Funds which support renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures.

    PA Office of Energy support energy management decision-making for businesses by providing information about alternative and renewable energy options, markets, and technologies relative to process heating systems, lighting, steam systems, motors, pumps, compressed air and more. Contact your Regional DEP office for more information.

    PA PowerSwitch: Visit PA PowerSwitch to shop for energy.

    Virginia Energy Program(s)
    The Virginia Information Source for Energy (VISE) website offers a list of grants, rebates, tax credits, tax deductions, and utility incentives available to encourage the adoption of energy efficiency measures and renewable/alternative energy. The incentives may vary by sector, but in general there are programs for all types: residential customers, small and large businesses, and government agencies.

    The Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative offers free energy audits to commercial, industrial, or government customers. The service involves a general walk-through "energy survey" or, if applicable, a more detailed and comprehensive facility audit. Potential Applicants include commercial, industrial, and government customers of Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative.

    For more information, contact NOVEC's Business Development & Energy Services Division at (703) 392-1503 or toll-free at 1-888-335-0500, extension 1503, or via e-mail at novecsolutions@novec.com.  

    West Virginia Energy Program(s)
    Lighting Audits are available through the WV Division of Energy.

Success Stories

CHP Project - Derry Township Municipal Authority, PA (PDF) (1pp, 162k)

CHP Project - City of Wilmington, DE (PDF) (1pp, 158k)

CHP Project-Clean Water State Revolving Fund Financing(17pp, 13.99MB)

Three Pennsylvania Wastewater Systems Think Outside the Box and Save Energy and Money (PDF) (2pp, 445k)

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority Creating Energy From Wastewater Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer— Pepco Energy Services Selected by DC Water to Build and Operate a $170 million Combined Heat & Power Plant at the World’s Largest Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Share Your Success!

Please share your success in enery efficiency! EPA invites you to input your projects below. Your story will be uploaded to EPA's website for others in the water industry to learn from.


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