Making water and sanitation sustainable

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is one of the world’s most influential forums on sustainable development, sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

ABB In Control (IC): What makes ABB different in sustainability? How do ABB technologies help make a more sustainable world?

Ingo Wagner (IW): ABB is a leading contributor to a more sustainable world through its unique business offering of pioneering technologies and sustainable business practices. Our sustainability framework is based around issues highlighted by stakeholders and we have set ourselves ambitious 2020 targets across 11 environmental, social and governance measures.

Sustainable technologies lie at the heart of ABB’s business. We have identified an eco-efficiency portfolio that delivers positive use-phase impacts in three areas: energy efficiency, renewable energy and resource efficiency. More than half of our global revenues come from this portfolio and it is growing year by year.

IC: Water is one of ABB’s core businesses. What is ABB’s vision for water and its value proposition for customers in the water sector?

IW: Our vision is to help water service providers deliver universal availability and sustainable management of water.

Over many decades we have developed a unique portfolio of skills and technologies that help water companies work toward this vison in all water applications.

These skills and technologies are based on our process expertise, integrated electrical and automation systems and life cycle services. They enable us to provide solutions that optimize water processes and reduce energy consumption, measure and monitor water quality, and minimize non-revenue water and leakage. Thanks to our global footprint we are well positioned to help customers meet local challenges and develop new business opportunities, sustainably.

IC: ABB has identified seven of the 17 UN SDGs where its solutions and expertise have the most impact. One of these is SDG 6: "Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all." How can ABB help water companies achieve their targets for SDG 6?

IW: The SDGs and their targets address the most important economic, social, environmental and governance challenges of our time and stimulate transformational changes. We recognize that achieving these goals requires businesses to contribute their fair share.

We identified seven SDGs where we can have the most impact. Our products, services and solutions not only enable SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), which is one of our core businesses, but also SDGs 6, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 17.

We help water companies achieve their own targets for SDG 6 through our solutions for and expertise in optimizing processes, minimizing leaks and water loss in distribution networks and transmission systems. We also provide flood protection and smart sewerage solutions that prevent wastewater from becoming a sanitation problem during floods and downpours.

IC: ABB has production sites in 70 countries worldwide. As a major global company, what is ABB doing to reduce its use of water and improve water management at its facilities?

IW: ABB recognizes the urgency of reducing global water consumption. Currently, 70 percent of all industrial water and 43% of all cooling water at ABB worldwide is saved by reusing it through closed-loop systems. ABB has reduced its total water withdrawals worldwide by 10% from 2013-2017.

ABB is committed to reducing its water impact where it matters most. The 2020 target is to reduce absolute water withdrawals by 25 percent from 2013 at facilities in watersheds with medium to extremely high baseline water stress, as categorized by the World Resources Institute. By 2017 we had reduced consumption by 19 percent and are well on the way to reaching our target.

IC: There is a close connection between energy and water: water is used to produce energy, and power is used to produce, distribute and reuse water. How can ABB solutions and expertise help power and water companies improve efficiency in the energy-water nexus?

IW: Water applications are energy intensive. About half the cost of treating raw water and wastewater is energy. Up to 60 percent of the life cycle cost of pumping stations is energy. And desalination plants are often built with their own power plant to feed their huge need for power and steam.

ABB has developed products, systems and solutions that reduce energy use for all these applications, including power generation.

Pumps are just one example. They are everywhere in water applications – in plants, transfer schemes, pumping stations and distribution networks. They come in different sizes and capacities and use varying amounts of energy – the bigger they are, the more they consume.

By equipping the pumps with ABB high efficiency motors and variable speed drives, we reduce their energy consumption significantly, compared to running them with lower efficiency motors at constant speed. And we have a control solution for groups of pumps called PumpFit that selects the optimal number of pumps to run in a facility, instead of running them all at the same time, often unnecessarily. For energy-hungry pumps this reduces power consumption and maintenance and frees operators from manual operation.

IC: How is digitalization transforming the water industry and what should water companies do to harness the opportunities that digital offers?

IW: The water industry has been using digital solutions for years with SCADA and distributed control systems and smart metering. What is different now is that we have the technology to collect, aggregate and analyze vast amounts of data to improve performance, productivity and availability in a scalable way across a fleet of assets – water plants, distribution networks, transmission systems, pumping stations or sewage systems.

ABB has made digital the core of its business. Our ABB Ability™ portfolio of digital solutions, in harness with our expertise in water applications and digital technologies, delivers measurable value for customers. We work closely with our customers – in a spirit of collaboration - to understand their needs and provide solutions that solve their business challenges. These could be reducing energy consumption, minimizing leakage in water systems, controlling water quality or enabling preventive maintenance to reduce operation and maintenance costs.

For instance, we are providing a distributed control system with integrated leakage and event management for the water distribution network in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This digitally advanced solution will reduce non-revenue water loss from 30 percent to 10 percent in a rapidly growing city of eight million people.

IC: Collaboration with customers is a key component of ABB’s digitalization offering. Recently, ABB opened a Collaborative Operations Center to provide water companies with advanced digital services. Can you briefly describe some of these services and explain why water companies should enter into deep collaboration with ABB?

IW: ABB’s Collaborative Operations Center for Water is a pillar of our digital offering. It is one of several that ABB offers for industries in which it is a market and technology leader – power generation, oil and gas, mining, pulp and paper, and others. We currently operate three such centers for water in Italy, Singapore and Germany.

Collaborative Operations is a remote operations and maintenance hub that connects ABB with the customer’s headquarters and production facilities, turning plant and fleet data into actionable information. Through a high-speed, cyber-secure connection to the plant’s control system, we continuously monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) across a comprehensive suite of applications to ensure that each plant is operating within regulatory, environmental and cyber security requirements, automatically notifying the customer if a KPI is underperforming or a reference limit is broken.

This approach allows customers to benefit from our process and application expertise and deep field experience in maintenance. I expect water companies to gradually shift from on-premise solutions to Collaborative Operations in the immediate future.

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