Smart solutions for conserving water and energy

January 11, 2013

More than 80 leading water system experts from the across the province gathered at an event hosted by Ontario Centres of Excellence to discuss challenges, identify current technology solutions and how they can be improved as well identify technology gaps that could be addressed through research and development.

A growing recognition of the interconnectedness between water and energy is driving momentum in the search for solutions to aging and leaking infrastructure that not only conserve water but contribute to electricity conservation across Ontario.

More than 80 leading water system experts from the across the province gathered at an event hosted by Ontario Centres of Excellence to discuss challenges, identify current technology solutions and how they can be improved as well identify technology gaps that could be addressed through research and development. 

“This was a high energy event that generated a great number of excellent ideas,” says Carole Champion, OCE’s Director of Industrial Engagement and Sector Lead for Energy and Environment. “The message was clear that there is an urgent need for action and that industry, government and academia need to collaborate in developing solutions.”

According to the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, a minimum of 327 million cubic metres of water are being leaked from the province’s corroded and cracked pipes every year. Close to 30 per cent of Ontario’s total electrical energy usage in urban areas is consumed by pushing water through defective infrastructure. 

“We need to get the message out that this must become a priority for both large and small municipalities across the province,” says Carole. “There’s a need for a paradigm shift and to change the way we look at things. Making the link between energy usage and water is critical.” 

This “energy-water nexus” is at the heart of work done by Enbala Networks, which is leading the way in demonstrating how smart grid principles can be applied to water management through the shifting of consumer and industrial demand. Through its innovative technology called “grid balancing,” Enbala  allows for the system to be recalibrated every four to five seconds to ensure supply and demand are in sync and improve the bottom line for municipal hydro bills.  

Identified at the event as a significant challenge is the tendency for water administrators to be risk averse when it comes to investing in the new and innovative technologies that are now becoming available. Participants heard about a number of creative new approaches to managing infrastructure that are establishing a track record of success.
For example, municipalities need to know the location of their infrastructure assets. Through its distinctive locating capability, Sensors and Software is able to survey and map pipes and cables. The next step is locating leaks. This can be achieved through Echologics’ breakthrough technology, which harnesses sound with acoustic technology to accurately detect leaks and assess the condition of water pipes, all without breaking ground. And AUG Signals, a leader in signal, image and data processing, has a sophisticated drinking water monitoring system that can detect leaks and identify contaminants in water and the level of those contaminants well before they become a health threat. Once leaks have been located, pipes must be cleaned and rehabilitated. Envirologics specializes in offering customized rehabilitation solutions for water pipelines. Traditionally, fixing water mains with structural problems has required open-cut replacement as the only solution. Now companies like Acuro Infrastructure Rehabilitation and FER-PAL offer an innovative solution for mitigating leaks that involves installing specially designed pipe linings. This avoids the traffic and sidewalk disruption associated with the digging up and replacement of pipes. 
One key suggestion that emerged at the event was that municipalities come together under a pilot project to establish a lab where both blocked and unblocked water pipes from various locales can be tested as a means of documenting the degree to which corrosion is affecting water flow and energy usage.

With 25 years of experience in investing in water-related research and development, OCE has supported the development of a wide range of leading edge technologies. Since 2004, OCE has invested in research and development related to mapping, measuring and monitoring the resource; drinking water treatment; water use and conservation; storm water management; and wastewater treatment.

The OCE-led event, which included strong provincial government, industry and academic representation, coincided with the announcement of the Ontario government’s new water sector strategy. George Mandrapilias, Leader, Green Energy/Clean Tech Unit of the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, told attendees that Ontario, which pioneered ultraviolet disinfection and membrane filtration technology, is poised to become a North American leader in clean water technology by driving innovation and expanding exports. In collaboration with water companies, municipalities, researchers, and industry, the strategy will create efficient and affordable solutions for water conservation; encourage local water companies to export technologies internationally and build a globally competitive Ontario water sector.

It’s understood that the price tag for repairing the existing infrastructure is prohibitive and out of the reach for most municipalities. Dr. Mark Knight of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Waterloo described a tool he’s developed that demonstrates it’s less expensive for municipalities to borrow money and pay the interest and also less likely to lead to sudden rate hikes for consumers if municipalities fix the most damaged five per cent of their infrastructure each year rather than waiting until a breakdown requires an immediate fix. An added benefit to this approach is that it could eliminate the water infrastructure deficit over a 15-20 year period.

Breakout sessions touched on a wide range of issues including industry’s need to be able to bench test or pilot new technologies; requirements for better data collection: decentralization of the system to create more micro grids; more funding and incentives to introduce transformative technologies; and greater public awareness of the deteriorating condition of water system infrastructure.
As a next step, OCE will be issuing a call for proposals in R&D that focus on creating smart drinking water distribution systems and spearhead the leading edge technologies that will drive Ontario’s goal of becoming a global leader in clean water technology. 
“Ontario has many innovative organizations working in the water sector and OCE has years of experience in bringing together stakeholders to address issues that they are facing,” says Leanne Gelsthorpe, an OCE Business Development Manager with 25 years of experience in the water sector and the environment. “We are very excited about the prospect of working with them now to identify the gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed as well as the technologies required to deal with the challenges associated with the critical issue known as the water-energy nexus.”