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Q&A: Leveraging IoT tech to make sustainability headway (Includes interview)

Since 2014 Xylem has used IoT tech to reduce its energy (by 20 percent) and greenhouse gas intensity (by 28 percent). Going forwards, the company has set ambitious goals for the next 5 years, including saving billions of cubic meters of water and using 100 percent renewable energy and 100 percent process water recycling at its major facilities.

Xylem’s General Counsel & Chief Sustainability Officer, Claudia Toussaint, discusses with Digital Journal how the company leveraged tech and smart water solutions to improve sustainability, and what lessons they can share with other companies.

Digital Journal: What are the main environmental impacts from water utilities?

Claudia Toussaint: Water is the essential foundation of community resilience and sustainability, however one main environmental impact from utilities is high energy consumption – vast amounts of energy are required to pump, treat and transport water. According to the EPA, drinking water and wastewater systems account for approximately 2 percent of energy use in the United States, adding over 45 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.

Additionally, polluted water dumped into waterways creates huge environmental costs for many communities. Managing sewer and stormwater overflows in the face of increasing intensity and frequency of wet weather events is a serious challenge.
A key focus of ours at Xylem is working with utilities to help transform their operations, making them more efficient with advanced tools and solutions that work across the water cycle. Using digital technology, utilities can save costs, comply with regulations and of course reduce their impact on the environment. For example, Xylem’s smart pumping technology helped Sardinian water and wastewater company Tecnocasic reduce energy consumption by 35 percent.

DJ: How can IoT help to reduce energy and the environmental impact?

Toussaint: IoT can be leveraged across all aspects of our water systems to drive energy reductions and help communities meet environmental goals.

For example, EWE WASSER GmbH (EWE), one of northwest Germany’s largest wastewater disposal companies, leveraged Xylem’s wastewater treatment plant solution with digital twin technology to reduce aeration energy usage by 26%, saving 1.1 million kWh annually.

Additionally, utilities are using Xylem technology that combines real-time sensors, weather data and distributed computing to use their wastewater system’s existing capacity to better manage flow and reduce discharge and environmental contamination. The controls work like a commodity exchange trading floor – constantly trading system capacity back and forth.

Finally, smart metering is also helping residents identify problems on their own and better manage their usage. Xylem’s smart metering Sensus solution was installed in London and enabled consumers to monitor their usage online with daily updates. This led to residents using 13% less water, driving not only cost savings, but energy savings as well due to lower usage, a reduction in non-revenue water and the elimination of emissions from crews traveling around communities conducting manual meter reads.

DJ: Similarly, how can this technology help to address greenhouse gas emissions?

Toussaint:Water utilities’ energy use is directly linked to their greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to leveraging smart tech to reduce energy, as mentioned earlier, utilities can reduce emissions linked to river discharge by redirecting treated wastewater for agriculture use or by converting it into biogas, a renewable and more sustainable source of energy. This is important as the chemicals and nutrients in waste can contaminate drinking water and generate excessive amounts of methane through decomposition.

DJ: What are Xylem’s IoT offerings?

Toussaint:Xylem offers a portfolio of smart solutions for utilities and cities including smart pumps, sensors, control systems, metering, remote monitoring and more. Cities that have invested in Xylem’s smart technologies are already seeing an impact. South Bend for example, installed BLU-X, Xylem’s real-time decision support and monitoring system with more than 160 sensors located throughout the City’s urban watershed to prevent sewer overflows and flooding. The technology solution reduced overflows by 70%, delivered a 50% drop in E. coli concentration (from sewer system) in the Saint Joseph River and saved the city $500 million in capital work projects to-date.

BLU-X was also used to help Buffalo, NY reduce its combined sewer overflow volume by 1.48 billion gallons and reduce budgets by $145 million through building and controlling inline storage vaults with machine learning and real-time decision support technology.

DJ: What successes has Xylem had driving sustainability?

Toussaint:Xylem looks at environmental sustainability from two perspectives: the direct impact of the company itself, and the impact from our products and customers. We actively set goals and measure our progress against each.

Since 2014 Xylem has reduced its energy (by 20%) and greenhouse gas intensity (by 28%). Additionally, we have set ambitious goals for the next 5 years, including using 100% renewable energy and 100% process water recycling at its major facilities. We are also committed to establishing science-based targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, Xylem recognizes the impact our products can have on the environment when our customers use them, and energy efficiency progress in this area is included within our sustainability goals. Since 2018 we achieved a 0.2 percent increase in average product energy efficiency across the entire Flygt product line, and a 2 percent increase in efficiency for new products launched for our Applied Water Systems business. These improvements’ cumulative impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is substantial and we’re proud to be a force for good in the industry.

DJ: What is next for smart water technology?

Toussaint:Advances in digital technologies are enabling better water and wastewater system hygiene, more efficient monitoring and diagnostics, more targeted investments and a transition to a new model for holistic system management. By integrating the power of data and intelligence into solutions, we can support users of water and communities by reducing water losses, overflows and energy consumption. This allows utilities in particular to make dramatic progress on the problems that matter most to the communities they serve: water scarcity, water affordability, and water systems’ resilience against climate change.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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