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Australian water utilities on track for zero emissions

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by Christopher Allan, Journalist, Utility Magazine

It is promising to see that in Australia more and more organizations such as city councils are committing to ambitious emissions reduction targets – but what does the journey to zero emissions look like across our main public services?

The Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) recently announced that 14 Australian and New Zealand water companies have collectively joined a Race to Zero campaign, each developing a tangible strategy for net zero emissions by at least 2050, including intermediate objectives.

Here, we look at how these water utilities are recalibrating their assets to reduce emissions and deliver new renewable energy projects, all without compromising ongoing service delivery to millions of people.

The challenges of managing water services

The water sector is both shaped by the effects of climate change and a critical part of the conversation about reducing emissions.

Major drought events, such as the Millennium Drought which affected countless communities, highlight the livelihoods at stake when it comes to water access and security in Australia.

And with the recent IPCC Assessment Report 6 describing the current outlook on climate change as a ‘code red for humanity’, drought spells are expected to become longer and more frequent.

In addition to the challenges posed to the water sector by climate change, global population growth can also affect water security – by 2025, more than 2.8 billion people in 48 countries are at risk of running out of water. ‘water.

From an emissions point of view, managing water services for cities and towns is an energy-intensive activity: the use, storage and distribution of water account for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse (GES).

Water utilities have a global responsibility to address the challenges of climate change from both angles – from developing means and technologies that adapt to water scarcity, to tackling emissions from the sector.

A leadership opportunity for our water sector

Australia has the opportunity to develop a smart framework to guide water utilities around the world when it comes to achieving consumer outcomes while controlling emissions. Over the next 15 years, Australian water utilities are expected to take significant steps to further reduce their energy consumption, reduce their internal energy consumption costs while making a significant contribution to emissions reduction efforts.

Importantly, many water sector assets provide natural opportunities for sustainable practices and technologies, best demonstrated by the rise of waste to energy practices. By harnessing and recycling the energy and other resources generated by waste from water treatment, water utilities can make substantial progress toward emission reduction goals.

For example, if the hydraulic energy generated by the waste stream from some desalination plants can be fed back into the treatment cycle, this could allow water utilities to unlock efficiencies of up to 97% – particularly promising. since improving the sustainability of desalination plants is a long-term goal in the sector.

Indeed, many water utilities have already proven to be early adopters of waste-to-energy, wind and solar technologies, sustainably powering critical infrastructure. A combination of improving asset practices and investing in dedicated, utility-scale renewable projects will ensure the water sector makes progress towards future goals.

The race to zero

The Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), in partnership with Water UK, has announced that 14 Australian and New Zealand water utilities have joined the UN-led Race To Zero campaign, pledging to achieve net emissions zero by 2050 or sooner, with interim targets over the next decade.

The water utilities, 13 Australians and one New Zealander, join major UK water utilities in the Race To Zero campaign, together serving more than 72 million people in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

These 14 utilities are:

• Barwon water

• Hummingbird water

• Gippsland Water

• Goulburn Valley Water

• Water icon

• Melbourne Water

• Water SA

• Southeast Water

• Southern rural water

• Sydney Water

• Unitywater

• Urban public services

• Water care (New Zealand)

• Yarra Valley Water

WSAA Executive Director Adam Lovell said: “Congratulations to all Australian and New Zealand Water Utilities for this demonstration of commitment and leadership in mitigating the impacts of climate change, so deeply felt. sharpness in the water sector.

“As early adopters of wind, solar and waste-to-energy technologies to power our infrastructure, we are thrilled to see so many of our water utilities join the Race To Zero commitment.”

Water services in the race to zero

In this section, we explore some examples of approaches that major Australian water utilities are taking as part of the Race To Zero.

Yarra Valley Water

In Victoria, Yarra Valley Water was one of the first water utilities in the world to sign a Net Zero pledge as part of its work to generate renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions . The utility plans to power all of its operations with renewable energy by 2025, 50% of which is already powered by renewable energy.

Joining the UN Race to Zero pledge, Yarra Valley Water CEO Pat McCafferty said: “Climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are proud to be leading the way in reducing of our greenhouse gas emissions with ambitious targets. which go beyond zero.

“We have achieved this through leading projects like our food waste-to-energy facility in Wollert, which converts approximately 30,000 tonnes of food waste into over 7,000,000 kWh of clean energy per year. »

Waste generators, such as markets or food manufacturers, deliver the equivalent of 33,000 tonnes of commercial food waste to Wollert
establishment each year. On track to meet its Race To Zero commitment, Yarra Valley Water has also partnered with other Victorian water companies to purchase up to 7,000 MWh of renewable energy under the Zero Emissions Water (ZEW) program ).

ZEW is a joint effort between 13 water companies to buy power from Kiamal’s solar farm in Ouyen, Victoria’s largest solar farm.

ZEW Chairman Paul O’Donohue said, “The 13 water companies will each take a percentage share of ZEW’s total renewable energy purchases based on their local needs. “The purchase agreement is fixed for eleven years and will provide each company with up to 50% of its renewable energy needs.”

This collaborative model of joint engagement in a renewable energy project to offset sector emissions could prove popular in other states in Australia, other parts of the world and other utility sectors.

Unitywater

In Queensland, Unitywater has set an interim target for the year 2025 to deliver a 45% reduction in emissions, 100% reuse and diversion of biosolids from landfills, and renewable energy generation of 15 000 MWh.

In 2020, Unitywater recognized reducing emissions as a utility-wide priority, delivering the Unitywater Energy Management Plan 2020-2027.

The plan recognized that sustainable practices could help the utility manage growing demands on sewage and water systems, with populations on the Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay expected to rise by more than 250,000, to reach more than one million by 2031.

Importantly, Unitywater’s wastewater treatment plants (STPs) account for almost half of all energy expenditure – a key part of the plan was to ensure that its major STPs were on track to become energy neutral.

Solar panels have enabled the Kenilworth STP to become energy neutral, while a cogeneration plant produces renewable energy to partially supply the Kawana STP.

Indeed, the STP upgrades at Unitywater are part of a management plan that aims to save the equivalent of $2.5 million per year in energy costs between 2020 and 2027. Future STP upgrades include the increased reuse of biogas and the installation of solar panels and batteries at four of Unitywater’s largest treatment plants.

Melbourne Water

At Melbourne Water, construction has begun on a new solar farm at Bangholme East Treatment Plant, recognizing that water utility assets can be supported by dedicated renewable projects. The Eastern Treatment Plant currently treats around 330 million liters of wastewater per day, or around 40% of Melbourne’s total wastewater.

The plant already includes a biogas plant that generates around 30% of the electricity needed each year to run the plant, showing how the industry has already embraced waste-to-energy technologies where possible.

The proposed solar park will produce an additional 22% of the required electricity, bringing on-site generation to 52%. The project will help Melbourne Water meet its interim target of halving emissions by 2025 and explore a pathway to net zero by 2030. The solar farm is expected to be completed in mid-2022.

Positive prospects for the water sector

The 14 water utilities that have committed to the Race To Zero commitment reflect a broader model of water sector leadership in sustainable technologies and reducing emissions.

WSAA Executive Director Adam Lovell said, “Many more water utilities are on track to contribute to a net zero future and could join the Race To Zero campaign in the months ahead.

“The industry is at the forefront in this rapidly evolving field, particularly in light of the recent IPCC report on climate change.” Through joint collaborations to fund renewable energy offset programs, waste-to-energy initiatives that create new energy sources, and dedicated on-site renewable projects like solar farms, the water sector leaves its mark in a global race towards zero emissions.