Efficient Water Management Blog

Water Conservation in Commercial Buildings

Most businesses rely on abundant water to operate. Access to uninterrupted water is expected to be as reliable as electricity. While energy conservation programs have become established and have documented cost savings to support them, water costs have remained low and water conservation has not been a major initiative for many companies. Energy conservation is easier to manage at points of use, while water has been more difficult to collect data to provide insights to reduce water consumption.

Conserving water in commercial buildings is hampered by several factors: 

  • Inadequate data for benchmarking with similar facilities
  • Limited discernment of relationships between water use and the systems that consume it
  • Lack of sub-metering and sensors for collecting operating data for analysis
  • The easy fixes have been completed (low-flow toilets, showers, etc.) and new initiatives are not well defined

The primary factor that limits water conservation is that water is not properly valued. The value of water isn't in balance with its cost or price. The relationship between them is evolving rapidly in many regions due to droughts, aging infrastructure and population growth. 

  • Price can be understood as the amount paid to have reliable water supplied to a facility
  • Cost is the amount incurred in the production and delivery of water
  • Value indicates the worth of water to individuals, companies and communities

The value of water depends on the lens that is used to view the environmental, social and economic considerations. The environmental value of water relates to how clean water supports the ecosystem of users. The social value of water focuses on the well-being of a community, and economic value of water is limited to the financial benefits derived. The three are interdependent, and enlightened companies understand that availability and abundance of water enables or inhibits their ability to operate at their location.

Municipal Water Costs Drive Commercial Price Increases

Municipalities that provide potable water and treat sewage are often at odds with cost and pricing, as historic rates were not directly tied to the actual costs of sourcing, treating, and safely distributing water to homes and businesses. Wastewater collection, treatment and discharge costs have similar disparities, as maintenance, regulatory and replacement costs have increased dramatically in recent years.

Flint, Michigan comes to mind for the community health problems caused, generally attributed to budget constraints. A major financial issue that most municipalities are struggling with involves identifying and correcting leaking water infrastructure. The average municipal water utility in the United States loses up to 30 percent through leaks or un-billed usage, according to Navigant Research. 

Water conservation on the fresh water side decreases the volume of wastewater, which is desirable. However, less water volume reduces municipal revenues. The tension increases each budgetary cycle, so that water prices are rising steadily and will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. However, while the cost of water is causing price increases each year, the perceived value of water in the U.S. remains low, unless a drought is underway. Sustainability depends on aligning the value of water with its actual costs and pricing.

Water conservation programs are being developed by the US Green Building Council, 2030 Districts, and other industry organizations to support building operators, schools and government facilities with achieving water reduction goals that benefit the broader community, while saving operating costs.

Digital Dashboard for Water Monitoring and Conservation

Building operators are developing programs to reduce water consumption in the short term so that longer term exposure to price increases are mitigated. The first steps are to prepare a baseline of water use for that include cooling towers, irrigation, bathrooms, functional departments and identified segments that consume significant percentages of water. Baseline data is critical for analyzing the cost benefits of each component system.  

Many baseline assessments fail to segment water use at facilities, and rely on the main water meter to indicate whether water has been conserved. This approach significantly limits opportunities for analysis so that enduring solutions can be identified and implemented. Sub-metering effectively measures water use trends and identifies leaks, along with long-term water conservation opportunities that provide an ROI within months for investment in the sensors and equipment. Real-time data has a distinct advantage over reviewing broad, uncategorized historical trends.

The proliferation of internet of things (IoT) enabled sensors and meters allows cost-effective measurement of water use, along with sophisticated cloud-based analytics tools that enable water conservation as a service.

HydroTech recently entered into a strategic partnership with Banyan Water of Austin, Texas to collect and analyze water data on their platform with customized analytics to evaluate water system components like cooling towers, irrigation, and internal segments using large data sets to improve water conservation and validate cost savings.

Artificial intelligence provides actionable insights for conserving water, and cost savings are quantified. ROI is realized within months, with ongoing monitoring for analysis between similar buildings for additional benchmarking and performance enhancements.

Commercial building operators benefit from data collection with analysis for water conservation and cost savings. Several key areas include:

  • Cooling tower system water conservation: Cooling towers consume between 30-50% of a commercial building's water. Costs are related to make-up and blowdown water use, with discharge to the sanitary sewer usually being 2-3 times the cost of potable water.

Cooling towers should be sub-metered to monitor make-up and blowdown water volumes, with digital meters to provide real-time data. Scale prevention historically required large volumes of chemicals to inhibit the natural precipitation of minerals (mostly calcium) on piping and equipment, with frequent purging of water. Physical water conditioning changes the process by causing scale to form in the water stream to become suspended particles that are removed by a side stream filter. This process improvement reduces chemical use by 75% and conserves significant volumes of water that is used much longer without scaling equipment.

Banyan's water management platform provides real-time monitoring of circulating water between chillers and cooling tower; validating 50% water savings using HydroTech's Total Water Management program. Make-up and blowdown meters, along with sensors that monitor pH, conductivity, temperature and energy use provide accurate monitoring of cooling water system performance that can be securely viewed 24/7 on phones and desktops. Alerts and smart alarms allow automatic blowdown or system shutdowns based on actual conditions, with immediate notification of stakeholders who can respond promptly.

Evaporation credits are available from many municipalities that rebate the cost difference between fresh make-up water and the volume of water actually discharged. Evaporation accounts for approximately 70% of cooling tower water use, which is not discharged, and fees can be credited each month.  Rebates that amount to hundreds or several thousands of dollars per month can be collected, depending on equipment size and climatic zone. The Total Water Management system automatically calculates the cost savings and prepares monthly reports for submission to the municipality.

  • Irrigation water conservation: Irrigation accounts for up to 20% of a facility's water consumption. IoT enabled flow monitoring devices, smart controllers, soil moisture sensors, and weather tracking technology installed on existing irrigation systems provide accurate data for optimizing water use.

Watering schedules are constantly updated based on changing needs and weather patterns, so that each zone only uses the water it needs. Secure access to control panels and dashboards allow for adjustments when new equipment or plants are installed.  The Banyan Water system sends alerts when leaks are detected, and can remotely shut off water in emergency situations. 

Properties use 50%-70% less irrigation water than before installation of the cloud-based solution, which provides ROI in months for many locations.

  • Leak detection and segmented water use analysis: Sensors and meters are installed on separate floors and zones within a commercial campus, sending real-time operating data to the cloud where artificial intelligence monitors water use patterns. Leaks are detected by sonic signatures and from unusual water patterns. Leak detection alerts prevent significant expenses from repairs and downtime after one event.

Building operators can regularly view their data and understand how they are using water in various areas. Automated analytics allows fine-tuning of water usage which reduces monthly costs and conserves water in specific areas, rather than reading the main meter to evaluate 1 data point from the past.  Continuous monitoring saves operating expenses that would otherwise be wasted on damage and from increased water bills.

Cost savings are achieved by the reduction of utility water purchases and sewerage costs. Many strategies are available when metrics are incorporated, allowing immediate ROI while conserving water use indefinitely. Reducing water requirements provides greater predictability of utility water and sewer costs, and reduced vulnerability to utility price increases each year.

The better we measure water use, the better we are able to manage it and derive the most value from this finite resource.

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