By Radhika Fox, CEO, US Water Alliance

May 16, 2016

The water and wastewater sector is no stranger to the impacts of climate change. Across our industry, companies are actively investing in climate adaptation solutions to make our critical water infrastructure more resilient to drought, rising sea levels, extreme storms, and other climate-related challenges. One opportunity of significant untapped potential is the industry’s ability to invest in energy-efficiency upgrades that also help to abate harmful emissions. Our latest research confirms that solutions already exist to make a difference today – and the economic and environmental implications are compelling.

Wastewater management contributes 86.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year through electricity-related emissions. That’s the same as burning 9.7 billion gallons of gasoline. Much of this pollution is the result of outdated, energy-inefficient equipment used at every step of the wastewater treatment process.

As part of Xylem’s broader activities to better understand the linkages between water, climate, and sustainable development, we launched a research project to assess the emissions mitigation potential from energy-efficiency in the wastewater sector.

The report, Powering the Wastewater Renaissance, identifies pragmatic solutions to mitigate a substantial portion of the harmful emissions generated by inefficient wastewater operations. Most importantly, those solutions are found in proven technologies that are already available. Simply replacing outdated equipment with high-efficiency technologies can cut global electricity emissions from the wastewater treatment process in half. 

And the economic savings would be game-changing for our industry.  With an energy-efficient wastewater sector, 95 percent of the achieved emissions reductions would either pay for themselves or result in net savings of up to $40 billion – unlocking new capital that could be channeled into additional upgrades to our outdated water infrastructure.

As business leaders, we have a unique opportunity to accelerate the change to more efficient, clean-energy technologies in our respective sectors.  Infrastructure investments made today will reap benefits for decades. Policy-makers have a fundamental role in setting clear targets but policy and regulation are only one piece of the puzzle.  Engagement by the private sector – from financial services companies to technology providers – is vital to unleashing the full potential of low-carbon investment and innovation.

By sharing this research broadly, we can help demonstrate the myriad benefits that investment in energy-efficient equipment can provide to utilities, including lower life-cycle costs, emissions abatement, and safer, more stable water infrastructure. So what are we waiting for? The wastewater renaissance is at our fingertips.