By Nicole Knight, California Business Journal.
Imagine squeezing savings out of city infrastructure while drastically shrinking the energy footprint.
This is what energy and wastewater efficiency expert Schneider Electric delivers throughout California and across the country.
Helping a roster of public sector clients—including cities, counties and schools—to tackle their top priorities in wastewater and energy infrastructure is at the core of Schneider’s business and what it does best, says Jordan Lerner, the company’s regional director of West and Midwest Energy and Sustainability Services.
“We come in and really try to understand the goals, the mission and the priorities,” explains Lerner, an engineer by training with more than a dozen years of experience with Schneider Electric.
The collaborative process begins with getting all of the stakeholders—city manager, finance director, plant operator—to sit down at the table. Next, understanding the client’s unique set of opportunities and challenges.
“Our culture is totally aligned around what does the client need, what does the client want, how do we improve the business of our clients,” Lerner says.
To see an example of Schneider Electric’s philosophy in action, look no farther than the water-conscious Central Valley in California. That’s where the city of Anderson was searching for a way to pay for wastewater and energy improvements—without asking taxpayers to foot the bill.
“We knew we needed to improve the energy-intensive aeration process at our wastewater treatment plant, but we didn’t have funding available to make the necessary upgrades,” explains City Manager Jeff Kiser.
By partnering with Schneider Electric, the city is now pursuing a $6 million grant from the California State Water Resources Control Board. The money will pay to root out inefficiencies in the city’s Water Pollution Control Plant aeration process, capture cost savings and cut energy waste by installing a solar array.
Given Schneider Electric’s sterling reputation in the region, Anderson’s city manager says the decision to partner with the company was really a “no-brainer.”
“Schneider developed the best approach to meet our efficiency goals and remain invested in understanding our unique needs,” he says.
The plant anticipates it will trim utility costs by a quarter by installing aeration controls to cut energy waste during the wastewater oxidation process, while increasing accuracy. Outfitting the plant with a large solar array is expected to bring plant’s yearly utility costs down to near zero. Overall, the upgrades should deliver $4.7 million in savings over the life of the project.
Amid municipal belt-tightening, Schneider Electric’s Lerner maintains it is critical for local governments to leverage infrastructure investments. In practice that means squeezing dollars out of the operating budget and applying those funds to the capital budget. Savings from the plant improvements will not only enable more sustainable operations, but provide city managers with additional budget for infrastructure improvements or to funnel into local economic growth and development.
“Public agencies’ money is constantly being stretched,” he says. “We really try to streamline processes so facilities can run as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
Earlier this year, when the Southern California city of El Centro wanted to run its wastewater facility more efficiently, it looked to Schneider Electric as its design-build partner. Today, with a $1.6-million grant from the California State Water Resources Control Board, the city is revamping its wastewater treatment plant to boost operational and energy performance.
A key focus? The plant’s aeration—the critical process of injecting wastewater with air to breakdown organic compounds and pollutants.
“Aeration is the most energy intensive step in the overall wastewater treatment process, and we knew we had work to do to turn our plant into a leader in efficiency,” says El Centro City Manager Marcela Piedra.
Now, by equipping the aeration system with high-efficiency turbo blowers and instituting a process called dissolved oxygen control, the plant will see its energy usage drop by nearly one-third.
Oftentimes, says Schneider Electric’s Lerner, it boils down to understanding the client’s goals, then mapping a path to get them from point A to point B. In El Centro’s case, “we helped them clearly identify and prioritize what were the best investments—where was the best bang for the buck and then go design it and build it. We do this all day every day,” he says.
El Centro is also instituting small tweaks to boost the plant’s performance, including rehabbing aging sewer lines, centralizing data collection and monitoring of lift stations, and swapping diesel generators for natural gas to strip 5.8 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—the equivalent of planting 232 trees.
Looking forward, amid concerns about the environment and climate change, Lerner anticipates that local governments in California will be faced with increased regulation and a sharper focus on renewables. California’s governor has already mandated a shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
Lerner also sees on the horizon a future where wastewater treatment is recognized as an “engine for change.” He believes clients will increasingly harness the power of their existing infrastructure as “revenue drivers.”
And clients seem to be catching on. In fact, over the past 25 years Schneider Electric has saved clients nearly $2 billion through more than 700 energy savings projects nationwide.
“It’s turning these from liabilities into assets,” Lerner says, “and we’re here to ensure our clients seize the opportunity.”
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