Navigant Research Blog

Emerging Technologies Address Water Management Dearth

— August 4, 2015

It’s been the kind of balmy summer in Washington, D.C. that makes Washingtonians thankful for air conditioning. Blasts of cool air offer a welcome greeting in homes, offices, and stores throughout the region. Unfortunately, the trek between those cool oases can be terrible, particularly when using public transportation. Though the stations, buses, and railcars of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) are equipped with air conditioning, maintaining an appropriate temperature has been a persistent problem.

In normal times, WMATA struggles to provide adequate air conditioning. In June, WMATA faced catastrophic failure in the chilled water plant that serves two stations (Dupont Circle and Farragut North). The chilled water plant in question consists of a chiller, a cooling tower, and air handling units to provide cool air in the stations. The chiller uses the refrigeration cycle to cool water that is distributed to the stations’ air handling unit and reject heat to the cooling tower. The cooling tower relies on evaporation to then reject heat to the atmosphere (the same principle that makes that bird go up and down). For WMATA, the water piping that connects the chiller to the cooling tower, known as the condenser loop, sprung a leak, rendering the system useless. Though it’s little solace to frustrated commuters, there are several emerging technologies that could have helped.

Water World

The technology improvements in buildings (and metro stations) is focused on energy. Because water is cheap, it is hard justify the expense of infrastructure to monitor it. As a result, monitoring water systems for water waste and inefficiencies is outside of the scope of most building management systems. In chilled water plants, sensors collect data on flow and temperature of water, but omit water management, such as leak detection. Seattle-based startup APANA offers a turnkey package of sensors, telemetry, and software that provide real-time monitoring of operational and mechanical water consumption. If such a system were installed in WMATA’s chiller plant, immediate notification could have been provided and downtime could have been minimized.

Another company, Aquanomix, offers a solution to collect data on water quality of chilled water plants. Though this technology would not have averted WMATA’s catastrophe, it would be beneficial nonetheless. As water evaporates in cooling towers, everything that is not water is left behind and concentrated over time as make-up water (and additional contamination) is added and evaporated. These contaminants reduce the efficiency of the chiller and cooling tower. The current method of treating them involves a water treatment technician taking physical measurements and adding appropriate chemicals to minimize impact on the system. Aquanomix uses sensors to provide real-time monitoring of water quality and integrates that information into the building management system to quantify the impact water quality has on energy efficiency.

Market Adoption

Monitoring and management technology addressing water use in buildings has lagged behind the advances made in other building operations. The prolonged severe drought affecting the western United States has started to spark a conversation around innovation in water use. However, drought may not be necessary to justify investment in better technology for water management. In Washington, D.C. (which is having one of its wettest summers), better monitoring would have improved the environment of many commuters.


Industrial Energy Management Systems – Tools to Overcome the Biggest Barriers to Energy Efficiency

— July 9, 2015

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released a report to Congress and an accompanying study on the barriers to industrial energy efficiency as mandated under the authority of the American Energy Manufacturing Technical Corrections Act.  The study concludes that if specific economic and financial, regulatory, and informational barriers can be overcome, there is the potential to deliver energy savings of 15% to 32% by 2025 in the industrial sector.  Industrial energy management systems (IEMSs), as defined by Navigant Research, are viable tools to help overcome some of the biggest barriers identified by the DOE and help industrial customers realize cost savings, operational efficiencies, and sustainability improvements.

An IEMS analyzes and manages data associated with energy consumption and operations within an industrial facility, and it also delivers actionable information to building stakeholders.  The system’s analytics-based tools help industrial customers make more strategic investments and equipment improvements and monitor the impacts of energy efficiency measures from capital-intensive system replacement to no-cost operational changes.  Broader adoption of IEMSs can help the industrial segment overcome specific barriers to deep improvements in energy efficiency, as identified by the DOE:

  1. Failure to recognize non-energy benefits of efficiency: Not considering non-energy or co-benefits of an end-use energy efficiency project weakens the business case.
  2. Split incentives: Companies often split costs and benefits for energy efficiency projects between business units, which complicates decision-making.
  3. Energy price trends: Volatile energy prices can create uncertainty in investment returns, leading to delayed decisions on energy efficiency projects.

The Specifics

First, the most sophisticated IEMS enables customers to shift the maintenance paradigm from a reactive to predictive approach.  IEMS-supported predictive maintenance is more strategic and reduces costs by prioritizing and streamlining response to alarms and managing equipment before it causes the most costly impacts of downtime. This is a critical non-energy benefit for industrial customers.

Second, an IEMS can be an effective tool for overcoming the split incentive. When the capital expenditure of an energy efficiency improvement is covered by the budget of one business unit, but the savings are realized through reduced operating expenses from a different business unit, an organization is often unable to overcome this internal hurdle to investment.  An IEMS can utilize the equipment and facility data to inform each business unit of costs and derive the proportionate energy savings generated by the energy efficiency investment. An industrial customer could use this capacity to quantify costs and allocate capital expenditures across the organization to help generate broader vested interest in energy efficiency.

Finally, an IEMS gives customers insight into their facility’s performance, tools for capital planning, and strategies for operations and maintenance (O&M) that can help limit the impact of energy price uncertainty or volatility.  An IEMS gives customers transparency into the impact of variable energy costs, and some even provide services for energy procurement that can further reduce the uncertainty and risks associated with energy price volatility.

Watch for a new Navigant Research report on IEMSs, expected to publish this year in our Building Innovations research service.


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