American Water Sustainability Report: Meets 2017 GHG Goal Early
American Water last year beat its goal of a 16 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from a 2007 baseline, for which it had a target completion date of 2017. Since 2007, scope 1 and 2 GHGs have fallen 16.7 percent, from 853,676 to 710,878 tons.
But the company’s 2011-2012 corporate responsibility report does not trumpet this milestone, or even describe it as a goal achieved. American Water prefers to remain cautious.
“The trend is in the right direction, but you can see from year to year there is a little variation,” director of innovation and environmental stewardship Mark LeChevallier says. “We’re still focusing on efficiency and that’s going to be a long-term process.” (More from our interview with LeChevallier here.)
The company, which is the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility in the US, aims to cut its GHG emissions through water conservation and improvements to water pump energy efficiency.
On an absolute basis, scope 1 and 2 GHGs fell in both of the past two years, from 800,655 tons GHGe (also known as carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e) in 2010, to 790,922 in 2011 and 710,878 in 2012.
GHG emissions intensity, meanwhile, fell 5.3 percent since 2007. Intensity rose by 2.8 percent from 2010 to 2011, to 4.6 pounds CO2e per thousand gallons of water sold, then fell 8.6 percent from 2011 to 2012, to 4.2 pounds CO2e per kgal.
The company’s direct emissions make up a small proportion of the total intensity. Direct emissions rose 11 percent from 0.36 pounds per kgal in 2010 to 0.4 pounds in 2011, then fell 7.5 percent to 0.37 pounds in 2012.
Indirect emissions intensity, meanwhile, rose 2 percent from 4.12 pounds per kgal in 2010 to 4.2 pounds in 2011, then fell 9 percent to 3.83 pounds in 2012.
The document is American Water’s second biennial corporate responsibility report, and covers the 2011 and 2012 calendar years.
The data covers all of the company’s regulated utility operations and, where relevant, data from its market-based businesses, which include water reuse; design, build, and operation of water and wastewater facilities; and contract operations. American Water self-declared the report at GRI Application Level B.
The report provides a variety of metrics, although the company has left off some key units. “CO2e/kgal sales” should be “pounds CO2e/kgal sales,” and “GHGe” should be “tons GHGe,” LeChevallier confirmed. He blamed the error on a typo.
Nearly 93 percent of American Water’s greenhouse gas emissions come from its operational electricity use, largely for pumping water. Other GHG emissions come from natural gas use in its buildings and treatment facilities, and gasoline and diesel fuel use in its vehicles and generators.
In 2010, American Water submitted a Climate Leaders Partners goal proposal to increase its pumping efficiency by 8.4 percent, thereby decreasing its corporate greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5 percent.
The company aimed for a one percent reduction in its energy usage index (which the report does not define) by the end of 2012, but found that several factors increased the EUI year-over-year: it removed divested states from the baseline, and made adjustments to account for natural gas and diesel fuel usage for pumping. Also, off-peak pumping at one location resulted in higher EUI. The company says, however, that it is prioritizing a one percent EUI reduction by end-2013, over a 2010-2012 baseline, and eight percent by 2017.
The company says that while the average energy efficiency of existing water utility pumps in the field is about 55 percent, its new installations are designed to achieve efficiency ratings of between 76 percent and 82 percent. It is also investigating new wastewater treatment technologies that will help it to reduce energy use in those operations by 40 percent.
American Water’s energy efficiency efforts focus on four key areas:
- Design: enhanced pump, lighting, and process design standards
- Construction: using sustainable construction standards and methods
- Operation: using enhanced best operating practices, leak detection and repair procedures
- Maintenance: using computerized maintenance management systems, and preventive maintenance systems
Climate change planning
American Water says it was the first company to join the EPA’s climate change initiative in 2005.
The company says its planning, engineering, and asset management strengths enabled it to maintain water service during Hurricane Sandy, and it provided uninterrupted service to all but 2,000 customers throughout the storm across the hardest-hit states.
Meanwhile, drought conditions have forced the company to adjust some of its approaches. When the Mississippi River hit record low levels in 2012, the Missouri American Water operation lowered its intakes to manage water resources more carefully. Kentucky American Water added a new plant to address drought conditions in that region and to plan for expected increases in demand.
But American Water says that responding to the physical effects of climate change can mean using more energy-intensive processes in other areas. For example, poor source-water quality or increased saltwater intrusion from sea-level rise will require the use of energy intensive processes such as desalination, advanced oxidation, or membranes.
Water quality and scarcity
The company says it typically performs about 30 times better for drinking water quality compliance than industry averages, as reported by the EPA. It says its wastewater performance routinely outperforms the national average for comparable systems.
American Water recycles over two billion gallons of water annually and produces reused water at 39 facilities.
According to the report, the company now delivers 20 percent less water per customer than it did 20 years ago, in part through its educational efforts, and also through consumer adoption of more efficient household fixtures and appliances. When customers use water more efficiently, American Water says it benefits from lower energy and chemical use, reduced carbon output, less stress on its watersheds, reduced waste disposal and lower or deferred costs. It also saves on operational costs because it can pump and treat water during off-peak times, and it can maintain more water in drought reserves.
The company is testing AquaGuard, a “smart” pressure-reducing valve, at five locations in the US. The technology automatically adjusts distribution system water pressures to reduce water lost during leakage and main breaks. Operators can sense when flows are high or low and adjust the pressure accordingly. American Water expects to roll out the technology to the entire company, which it says will drastically improve its efforts to reduce this “non-revenue water.”
The company sees two promising water trends: per-capita water use is declining, as is the average amount used per household. At the same time, overall demand for water is increasing, with agricultural and industrial uses a significant source of that demand. The company says many areas are already in short supply relative to this demand. To meet this challenge, American Water says, utilities and regulators must identify and implement many best practices that fall outside of the traditional regulated framework. Water service providers must make long-term plans for reuse, watershed protection, wastewater management, groundwater infiltration and recharge, among other issues, the company says.
Management, measurement and reporting
American Water says it will develop an enhanced GHG measurement methodology this year, to help it manage the impacts of its operations and supply chain. It sees residual waste as an area of improvement, and plans this year to develop a reduction plan for residual disposal to landfills.
The company has undertaken a multi-year conversion to SAP software, to allocate capital more effectively, enhance customers’ experience, and increase employee effectiveness and satisfaction. Last year it finished the enterprise resource planning (ERP) phase, and this year it is introducing its enterprise asset management (EAM) phase. The company says this will help it manage its assets, from water pipes and meters to water treatment and purification plants, and make decisions about equipment construction, maintenance, and repair.
In 2013, American Water is also implementing EcoZone, a program that aims to get employees involved in improving their local office’s greening practices, set a baseline for environmental performance, improve that performance over time, and raise awareness of the company’s environmental responsibilities.
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