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Technology Helps Iowa Wastewater Plant See a Flood of Savings

Tech upgrades yield an estimated $200,000 saved annually.

by / October 20, 2011

Wastewater treatment facilities are often championed for their purification services. But officials at the Des Moines Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Iowa have taken those greening efforts one step further, employing an upgraded software system at the plant to help save energy and money for the city.

The facility had integration software installed that allows disparate systems to communicate with each other and added a sustainability program to an existing enterprise asset management (EAM) package. The upgrades were brought online for testing in Sept. 2010 and in five months energy use at the plant had decreased to the tune of an estimated $200,000 in annual savings.

How did they do it? Bill Miller, facilities management and systems administrator in Des Moines, explained that while the facility had an existing maintenance program based on best practices, the Infor EAM Asset Sustainability add-on to their EAM system was able to pinpoint what equipment was running most efficiently in real-time, allowing operators to switch to those assets immediately.

Those assets, which include process air blowers, raw water pumps and return sludge pumps, are all individually tied into the system. All data on the equipment is automatically fed to the sustainability program, which generates a work order for an asset or sends an e-mail to an employee with a heads-up that something isn’t performing well.

“The bottom line is it basically provides us the ability to view and manage our total operating conditions including energy usage and maintenance costs,” Miller said. “It allows us to optimize the use of high-cost assets and minimize the impact on the environment and our plant.”

As one piece of equipment falls out of the range officials consider optimal, it can be taken out of service and restored to peak operational capacity before coming online again.

The difference in performance can be a huge drain on the wallet. Miller said the initial data collected on the new system showed that some of the raw water pumps were costing up to $18 per hour to run, while others were operating at an $11 per hour clip.

While usually only one or two pumps are running at one time, Des Moines has been hit with heavy flood waters so the facility was powering up to as many as five pumps concurrently, handling flows of up to 260 million gallons per day. The high use makes efficiency incredibly important.

“The thing that was sweet about this program was being able to identify what the difference is, without spending a lot of money or a lot of effort,” Miller said, regarding equipment efficiency. “All we had to do was ... switch over to the more efficient assets and ... collect the savings right off the bat.”

The wastewater facility is owned by the Metropolitan Des Moines Wastewater Reclamation Association, which is governed by a board of officials from Des Moines and 16 other surrounding communities. Des Moines operates the plant and the results of the software upgrade project ultimately earned the facility and its crew statewide recognition.

The Metropolitan Des Moines Wastewater Reclamation Association received a 2010 Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence Award in the category of special recognition in Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy.

Given annually, the awards spotlight projects in Iowa that create new technologies that improve the environment or reduce the use of natural resources, reduce waste, develop energy efficiency or create educational or prevention programs aimed at environmental improvements.

The award recipients were announced on July 7 and despite the obvious financial and environmental gains, Miller admitted he was surprised the facility was selected.

“We’re always looking for ways to save energy and minimize our carbon footprint here, so we didn’t have any mindset of expecting anything,” he said.

Regardless of the success the wastewater treatment facility has experienced, Miller was adamant he and his colleagues aren’t resting on their laurels. He hinted that various other environmental efforts are underway, including using byproducts at the plant for fuel.

“One of the things we’re looking into is using our biogas from our digesters ... to fuel our fleet here at the facility ... once we go with that, it’s going to be big,” Miller added.


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Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.

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