The word innovative is talked about a lot in the water and wastewater industry, but as an industry we have been slow to accept technology innovation. I have been in the industry for 30+ years and participated in several industry efforts with WEF, AWWA, NSF, and EPA—like the EPA’s Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) program, WEF’s LIFT program, etc.—to increase the use of innovative and new technologies. These programs typically test the equipment through a range of conditions and a report is written on the testing. Testing the full range of conditions that technologies might experience is virtually impossible in the water and wastewater industry since the influent conditions are constantly changing. The major difficulty in gaining the acceptance of new, innovative technologies has involved state-by-state regulatory approval, with some engineering firms and utilities not wanting to be early adopters due to the believed risk of failure and local bidding requirements.
How is our industry changing in regard to the acceptance of innovation?
Well, this is shown in a couple ways:
- First, by the move to more collaborative delivery solutions by many utilities
- Second, by the use of innovative technologies in collaborative delivery projects
The move to collaborative delivery approaches is due to a desire that many utilities want the following:
- Be more involved in the details of the project
- Ensure they get the maximum value for dollars being spent
- Ensure the selected technologies have been evaluated in detail and provide the net present worth cost
- Ensure the designs are utility friendly for the operation and maintenance of the facility
The use of innovative technologies in collaborative delivery projects is not new. History tells us that many of the technologies used in our industry over the past 40 years originated in Europe and other parts of the world. This is because the use of collaborative delivery methods in the water and wastewater industry is more commonplace outside of North America. Many of the big project delivery companies throughout the world developed their own innovative technology solutions to use in their project offerings. These innovative technologies provided potential competitive advantages to the proposing team resulting in project cost savings for equipment, construction, and operating costs. These savings benefit the proposing team and utility. Historically in Europe, most collaborative delivery projects have been fixed-price design-build (FPDB) or design-build-operate (DBO). These projects are based on performance-based specifications which are not prescriptive on the technology solutions required.
In North America, there are many types of collaborative delivery methods that can be utilized by utilities, such as fixed-price design-build and public-private partnerships (P3). The use of innovative technologies in each collaborative delivery method can impact the projects in different ways by providing advantages to the collaborative delivery team and/or utility.
So, what are some of advantages and benefits to using innovative technologies? Who does this benefit? How does it work in the different collaborative delivery methods?
The answers to these questions vary by the form of collaborative delivery method used. Presently, the most popular methods are construction management at-risk (CMAR) or progressive design-build (PDB), but there are also FPDB and several DBO methods. Innovative technologies can be proposed during the proposal phase or early in the design stage through a value-engineering process.
Innovative technologies provided by technology suppliers bring the proposing team and/or utility many different types of advantages and benefits. These advantages and benefits are focused mainly in five areas:
- Advancements in chemistry and/or biological processes
- Capital savings
- Ability to meet stricter effluent requirements
- Improvements in operating and maintenance costs
- Ease of operation
The advancements in process chemistry and/or biology knowledge has allowed the water and wastewater treatment industry to develop innovative technologies that have taken us from large sedimentation and aeration tanks to more compact tanks and the ability to achieve stricter effluent requirements. We have achieved these process changes by changes in treatment chemistry with coagulants and polymers that have allowed us to remove solids in more compact tanks via flotation, ballasted sedimentation, cloth media filtration, and membranes. Many new biological processes like aerobic granular sludge, membrane bioreactors, biological phosphorus removal, etc., allow us to achieve the stricter effluent requirements. Disinfection technologies like ozone, UV, etc., are being used to treat new pathogen and/or chemicals of concern. These new innovative technologies and advancements provide the following benefits to collaborative delivery teams and utilities:
- Capital Savings
- Due to smaller and more compact technology footprint
- Reduced equipment costs due to smaller or less equipment or improvements in materials of construction
- Reduced construction costs due to savings in concrete, steel, etc.
- Due to value-engineering process on the project
- Ability to Meet Stricter Effluent Requirements
- Many of the innovative technologies were developed to achieve present and future effluent requirements for nutrients, pathogens, solids, etc.
- Technology suppliers provide performance guarantees with the innovative technologies
- Lower Operating Costs
- Energy savings due to reduced pumping, aeration, etc.
- Reduced or eliminated chemical usage
- Lower Maintenance Costs and Time
- Improved materials of construction due to corrosion resistance materials
- Improved designs for less maintenance; in many cases reducing moving parts below water surfaces, fewer moving parts, etc.
- Ease of Operation
- Addition of automated instrumentation
- Automatic control of equipment and process
- Control feedback for operational adjustment and maintenance
The advantages of innovative technologies noted above provide benefits to both the collaborative delivery team and utilities. The delivery team benefits by more competitive offerings due to the capital savings with these technologies. The operating and maintenance benefits can be advantages if the delivery method includes these types of items in the evaluation or total cost of the offering. Most importantly, utilities benefit from all the advantages and benefits because they will experience an overall cost savings that reduces rates to their customers. It is important to note that the risk and rewards associated with using innovative technologies can be evaluated and balanced in a project because collaborative delivery methods include ways for both the collaborative delivery team and utility to work together to decide the right solution.
Finally, the use of innovative technologies now and in the future is even more important so the water and wastewater industry is able to reduce costs in capital and operations and maintenance, allowing the savings to be redirected to other essentials that utilities need to accomplish. We all know that a utility’s needs outpace the potential revenues and rates customers are willing to pay.