According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. municipal water industry collectively consumes 4 percent of the total amount of power generated in the U.S. So, slashing that energy use — and the dollar and emissions costs that go with it — is a major goal of water utilities everywhere. At the same time, upping the quality of drinking water is always the primary goal. Now a new cooperative research and development agreement between GE and the EPA is tackling both simultaneously. The goal is to increase the effectiveness of the municipal drinking water distribution network while using 10 percent to 15 percent less energy. They plan to attack the problem from a computing perspective by focusing on how to connect volumes of data being generated and analyzed from widely dissimilar sources — and integrating them into a single software-based platform. That would give the municipal water operators more useable information that can, in turn, improve their decision-making ability.
|Water world: The new sensor-based, data-driven, and software-assisted system will monitor water quality and energy use while integrating data from all over the water system. The picture above is from EPA’s testing lab. Photo: EPA|
“Today’s U.S. water system is running on aging, disparate technology and a crumbling infrastructure that experts predict is in need of $600 billion in replacements and repairs,” explained Alan Hinchman, Global Industry Manager Water/Wastewater for GE Intelligent Platforms. “Since most utilities expanded and automated over a 30-year period while technology was rapidly advancing, many were left with a combination of different automation equipment creating an environment for information silos that make it impossible to share information with plant operators.”
Importantly, the R&D collaboration calls on GE and EPA to work with third parties to tackle the problem so that an industry-wide solution can be found. The results will be further developed and integrated with proprietary technologies that GE and PDA Design, a Greer, South Carolina-based green technology think tank and solution provider, have related to sensor networking and data communication technologies. The idea is to create a “building block” approach in which pieces of the system can be rolled out immediately in water systems to create initial improvements — and then much more value can be derived as other components are added on and the system scales up.
|Robo-water: Whereas GE is well known in the industry for its advanced filtration technologies — everything from massive desalinization projects to creating ultrapure water used to make computer chips — GE is a major presence on the software side of the water business, too. GE Intelligent Platforms — which is at the heart of GE’s $4 billion-a-year software and solutions services businesses spanning energy, water, consumer packaged goods, government & defense, and telecommunications — is the GE business that will be working with EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL). Photo: EPA.|
If the teams can reach the 10-15 percent reduction in energy usage, it will also have an elegant, reciprocal effect. As EPA’s Thomas Speth explains: Since power plants are the largest users of water in the U.S., cutting electricity demand will, in turn, help cut power plant water use and thereby help better manage water resources.
* Read the announcement
* Learn more about our software solutions for water
* Read Fast Company’s story on the project
* Read “We’ll drink to that! New tech to boost water re-use” on GE Reports
* Read “Ultrapure water for ultra-advanced semiconductor ‘fab’” on GE Reports
* Read more water stories on GE Reports