LOGIC DOES NOT always apply in life, or the water industry. For example, recent studies have
shown that water demand is declining and will probably continue to decline, even while population increases. This decline is attributable to many factors, but mostly relates to the increased use
of water-efficient appliances like toilets and clothes washers. While water demand is declining,
one would be tempted to assume that electricity use by water utilities is also declining, or at the
very least, holding steady. Again, this is not the case. A recent Electric Power Research Institute
(EPRI) study, co-funded by the Water Research Foundation ( WRF), showed that electricity use
by water utilities is rising and will most likely continue to rise.
The EPRI report showed that electricity use increased by 39% since 1996 for public drinking
water supply and treatment. For wastewater, the increase was even more dramatic at 79% over
the same timeframe. The striking increase in electricity use by the wastewater industry is likely attributed to population growth,
more widespread use of secondary treatment, and advanced treatment to remove nutrients.
For drinking water, the reasons for the increase aren’t as clear. It could be the increased use of advanced treatment to meet
more stringent regulations, the need to pump water supplies longer distances to the treatment plant and distribute water longer
distances to customers, population growth, or some combination of the above plus other reasons. Regardless, increased electricity
use means increased operating costs, and decreased water demand means decreased revenue, presenting utilities with a significant
One of WRF’s priority research areas, as highlighted in the feature article in this issue of Advances in Water Research, is improved
energy efficiency through pump design and operation, energy management systems, renewable energy, and water and electric
utility integrated planning. The energy efficiency and management-related research projects highlighted in this issue are either
completed or near completion. Furthermore, a recent collaboration with the California Energy Commission and New York State
Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) developed a Water and Wastewater Utility Energy Research Roadmap to chart the
course of future energy research. The roadmap recommends 32 projects, and in 2015, WRF approved three of these projects for
funding as part of our Water Utility Energy Efficiency and Integrated Water-Energy Planning Focus Area.
In the past, energy optimization was not a core business focus for most water utilities. But as energy has become the second
highest cost item in most water utilities’ operating budgets, energy efficiency is a cost-saving measure that is no longer an option.
The Contradictory Nature of Water
Demand and Energy
Chair, Board of Trustees
Robert C. Renner, PE, BCEE