Energy conservation and emission reduction is a high-priority global issue. Just last year, 188 countries committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as part of the groundbreaking Paris Agreement. Although China’s wastewater treatment industry represents only a small slice of the total global carbon emissions reduction target, it is a high energy consumption industry that is growing rapidly, thus making it ripe for attractive energy savings opportunities.
This was the focus of the recently released joint report by Xylem Inc., a global water technology leader, and Renmin University of China entitled “Research on Carbon Emission Reduction Pathways and Potential of the China’s Wastewater Treatment Industry“.
The report concluded that China’s wastewater treatment industry has the potential to reduce direct and indirect CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions by 15.7 million tonnes through the adoption of currently available advanced technologies. This represents a decrease of 39% versus emissions produced in the sector in 2015.
The findings are based on primary data collected on baseline energy consumption in five major regions of China, and primary data collected on the range of energy efficiency gains from upgrades to high-efficiency wastewater treatment technologies, such as variable speed pumping, high-efficiency aeration, and advanced sludge management.
China’s wastewater treatment industry has the potential to cut CO2e emissions by 15.7 mn tonnes
(equivalent to 39% of 2015 levels)
The findings identify two main sources for emissions reduction in China’s wastewater treatment industry:
- Upgrading existing electromechanical equipment to high-efficiency equipment could reduce indirect CO2e emissions by up to 5.1 million tonnes. From collection to treatment to disposal of wastewater – including wastewater pumping, plug and flow mixing, aeration, and sludge treatment – there is a wide range of high-efficiency technologies that have the potential to deliver more than 5 million tonnes in CO2e emissions savings.
- Implementing new energy recovery technologies could reduce direct and indirect CO2e emissions by up to 10.6 million tonnes. The implementation of energy recovery technologies can result in a reduction of more than 7 million tonnes of direct CO2e emissions through the advanced treatment of wastewater sludge. In addition, 3.5 million tonnes of indirect CO2e emissions can be abated when the energy recovered through this advanced treatment is, in turn, used to power existing electromechanical equipment.
While these findings represent compelling opportunities to reduce direct and indirect carbon emissions, the industry needs to take steps to encourage widespread adoption of these approaches.
The industry needs to adopt a life-cycle cost approach & establish a standardised carbon audit process
First, it is imperative that investment and construction decisions be made on the basis of life-cycle cost, and not simply on the lowest bid price. While these solutions may require a higher initial capital investment, those with the lowest total life-cycle cost make better financial sense, and often result in the lowest energy consumption and indirect CO2e emissions.
Second, the industry should establish emission reduction targets, as well as a standardised carbon audit process. These standardised guidelines – which have been successfully implemented in other industries – can provide the structure needed for financiers and utilities to make increased investments in emission-reducing technologies.
Globally, USD40 bn could be saved through lower energy costs
Furthermore, it is important to note that China’s wastewater treatment industry is not alone in these opportunities and challenges. As highlighted in Xylem’s previous study, “Powering the Wastewater Renaissance: Energy Efficiency and Emissions Reduction in Wastewater Management“, there is a global opportunity for the wastewater treatment industry to cut its electricity-related emissions in half by implementing readily available, high-efficiency technologies. In doing so, the industry can save nearly USD40 billion along the way through lower energy costs – truly a climate change policy that pays for itself.
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