Melbourne Water’s low-carbon future

With the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement having been achieved this month – after India and the EU ratified the agreement – the attention now turns to implementing the Agreement to limit rising global temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The water sector’s role in mitigating climate change

The water sector now has to adapt to a world that is within 2°C warmer than pre-industrial levels and all the water-related challenges that go with that, including, meeting increased demand for water for drinking and cooling purposes as well as implementing additional treatment processes due to harmful algal blooms occurring more often in waterways. Most importantly however the water sector has a role in mitigating climate change by reducing energy consumption and producing energy from renewable sources while providing drinking water. One such water utility that is leading the charge as a low-carbon water utility of the future is Melbourne Water.

Melbourne Water a low-carbon utility of the future

Melbourne Water a low-carbon utility of the future

Melbourne Water’s low-carbon future

Over the period 2015-2016, Melbourne Water generated more electricity than it used for the third year in a row, with the majority of this energy coming from hydro-electricity and biogas – a by-product of sewage treatment. Regarding hydro-electricity, Melbourne Water has 9 plants at its reservoirs that generate up to 61,000-megawatt hours of electricity per year. The plants generate energy from the flow and pressure of moving water and feed it back into the electricity grid. This offsets the equivalent of 69,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year: the equivalent to the emissions of over 8,000 households. To further the utility’s commitment to renewable energy Melbourne Water is constructing 5 new mini hydro-electric plants during the period 2016-2017.

Melbourne Water an energy exporter

Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant uses biogas to meet nearly all its energy needs. It generates 71,500-megawatt hours of renewable energy each year, the equivalent of 87,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per annum. At times the plant generates excess energy, which is exported back to the grid to offset usage at the utility’s other sites. At Melbourne Water’s Eastern Treatment Plant biogas powers a significant part of its electricity usage as well as heating and cooling. The plant’s 7 generators can run solely on biogas or be supplemented with natural gas when required.

Melbourne Water’s corporate leadership

To lead the way as a low-carbon water utility of the future Melbourne Water produced in 2013 an Energy Productivity Plan that focuses on a number of areas to improve energy efficiency in-house. These include:

  • Participating in government-led energy efficiency program opportunities
  • Conducting energy performance auditing, monitoring, measuring and analyzing
  • Benchmarking energy performance internally and externally against others
  • Using software to optimize processes
  • Enhancing training, awareness and communications on energy efficiency

The take-out

The low-carbon water utility of the future will be a hybrid water-energy service provider.

*Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley). Urban Water Security argues that, with climate change and rapid urbanization, cities need to transition from supply-side to demand-side management to achieve urban water security.

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Author: Robert C. Brears

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