The global need for clean, safe water is currently in direct tension with our need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions around the world. A feedback loop is emerging as increasingly intense water treatment processes are used to manage dwindling fresh water supplies around the world. As a changing climate forces us to stretch our water supply even further for mitigation measures like irrigation and cooling, while placing additional stress on fresh water availability through changing rainfall patterns we are forced to rely even further on these high intensity processes. This, in turn, requires even more energy, creating more emissions. More emissions contribute to intensified global warming, accelerating our path towards irreversible environmental degradation.
Drinking water and wastewater-related systems for collection, distribution, and treatment contribute roughly 10% of annual GHG emissions. A third of those emissions come from water treatment processes alone, which emit approximately 1200 megatons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions every year. This problem is only going to get worse as a growing global population drives up demand for fresh, readily available water supplies.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030. To achieve this, we must increase the amount of water and wastewater we treat. However, business-as-usual water and wastewater treatment processes are on track to account for 9% of CO2e emissions by 2032 and as much as 15% by 2050, putting this goal at significant risk of being achieved.
If we want to prevent this massive increase from occurring and having devastating impacts on our environment and ways of life, we must put collective action towards decarbonizing the water treatment sector now.
Four tenets for rapid progress
Pani’s vision is to accelerate the world’s transition towards a sustainable water supply, both in terms of quality water treatment and increased accessibility. We build digital solutions that assist the water treatment sector in achieving this. Our technologies are underpinned by four tenets:
Developing win-win partnerships with facility owners, operators, and service providers,
Enabling rapid deployment with low barriers to adoption and quick time to value,
Contributing to continuous innovation in the sector through facilitating data-driven process operations and digital transformation,
Defining a new category in sustainable water treatment, where facilities benefit from reduced operational cost, operational risk, water loss, and greenhouse gas emissions. We call this the Water Zero Facility, and we are working to accelerate the transition and adoption of Water Zero across treatment segments.
These four tenets enable us to produce impact at both the local and global levels. Local benefits for treatment facilities include driving down operating costs (measured as $/m3 of water) and operating risk (measured as a percentage). Global impact includes driving down water losses (measured as a percentage) and GHG emissions (measured as kilotons/m³ of water). Both of these impacts also directly support SDG 6, and specifically Target 6.4 which aims to “substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of fresh water to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.” COP27 discussions are currently happening to determine how we might adhere to the increasingly out of reach Paris Agreement targets set out to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To do this, GHG emissions must peak and reach climate neutral levels by mid-century or earlier. This means we must transform and decarbonize water treatment processes as soon as possible, knowing that changes to this critical infrastructure will be a complex undertaking. The Pani plan addresses changes that can begin being implemented today, while providing specific solutions throughout the transition to a decarbonized water sector.
Pani’s four-step roadmap to reducing 510 Mt per year by 2032
Pani’s aim is to help the water treatment industry reduce the GHG emissions it contributes by 510 megatons (Mt), or just over half a gigaton (Gt), of CO2e per year by 2032. Currently, estimates show total emissions for the sector at 1100 Mt for 2022. Projections based on increasing water demand, the compound annual growth rates of the different treatment technologies available for meeting this demand, and the energy intensities of each of these treatment technologies see the total hitting 1600 Mt by 2032. Our aim is to neutralize this growth when it comes to emissions across the sector’s various segments.
In order to achieve this goal, we’ve set out a four-step plan to reduce emissions. This plan can be summarized as:
Step 1: Measure (Z) - measure what matters
Step 2: Optimize (E) - optimize existing processes
Step 3: Retrofit (R) - retrofit with no regrets
Step 4: Offset (O) - offset the remainder
Step 1: Measure what matters
Step 1 consists of identifying and tracking the metrics that matter most for each type of facility on the path to water zero. This involves instrumenting process equipment where needed, digitizing manual data capture, and centralizing various data inputs into a single source of truth to measure identified metrics regularly. With measurement-enabled management and reporting, facilities have a clear understanding of where they are today and where they need to go from there.
Step 2: Optimize existing processes
Step 2 provides optimization of treatment performance through data-driven process operations intelligence. The metrics measured in Step 1 are analyzed here using artificial intelligence technology to deliver actionable recommendations that can be executed at each facility by operational teams. Following through on optimization drives down costs and risks, as well as water losses and emissions.
Step 3: Retrofit with no regrets
Step 3 builds on the improvements made by maximizing a plant’s performance using the existing equipment, infrastructure, and resources in place. Once Step 2 is complete and all optimization recommendations have been implemented, further gains can be achieved through physical plant improvements. This retrofitting step requires capital upgrades, with insights into which upgrades could work best or be most cost-effective per plant setup being offered. Enabling rapid, yet informed decision-making adds clarity regarding returns on investment for facility owners and operators.
Step 4: Offset the remainder
Step 4 is the essential last step in enabling plants to reach carbon neutral operations. After completing plant improvements in the previous three steps, any remaining emissions will need to be offset through onsite renewable energy production or by using verified partners. Onsite energy generation recommendations and a possible marketplace of projects that are able to offset leftover emissions that can’t be optimized or resolved through physical upgrades at treatment facilities will provide the final component of the plan.
The water sector’s opportunity to lead by example
Using this framework, we intend to guide the water sector, across segments, in its decarbonization transition. By measuring emissions and tracking trends until they peak in the coming years, while also providing clear ways to optimize processes, retrofit equipment, and offset the remainder, we will help establish a stabilized climate and accessible, safe, and sustainable water supplies.
Building technologies and solutions that enable facility owners to optimize their operational processes, Pani will increase efficiency and, at the same time, reduce energy consumption and wasted resources. We believe that a future where clean water is abundant and readily available around the world does not have to be in competition with our global need to reduce carbon emissions. Our plan provides a clear way to align sustainable development in the water sector with climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.
By becoming one of the first major sectors to decarbonize processes, the water treatment industry can also become a guiding example for the transition to net zero in other energy-intensive industries.
To find out more about our four-step plan and learn how to implement it at different types of facilities, visit our Decarbonize page and download Pani’s Roadmap to Decarbonization paper. 💧