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Infrastructure Australia’s Australian Infrastructure Plan was released in February. General Manager of Operations for SUEZ, Mark Lautre, explores the plan and its calls for greater efficiency and improvements in water utilities across Australia.

It is clear the Australian Infrastructure Plan recognises the important role the urban water sector plays in Australia. With over $150billion in assets, the plan is right to examine the water sector and how it can continue to contribute to the productivity and liveability of our cities and regions.

The plan highlights the challenges of regional water utilities. In particular, it details the growing cost of service delivery, challenges with insufficient scale, declining asset condition and the lack of capacity to respond to emerging technologies.

The plan presents bold ideas for reform including aggregation of government­-owned operations or the privatisation of water assets. Whichever the model, it’s pleasing to see that the plan has a clear customer focus.

Ultimately, all utility owners and operators are interested in providing Australians with high quality water and a reliable supply at the most affordable price possible. In Australia, it’s important to acknowledge that there are already examples where the private and public sector have partnered to deliver on this customer promise.

SUEZ is involved in two operating alliances in Australia which are delivering real sustainable savings and improved customer service levels.

Working in collaboration with our partners, Water Corporation of Western Australia and Broadspectrum, the ‘Aroona Alliance’ has delivered $5.55million in sustainable operating savings through business efficiency improvements in 2014/15. In South Australia, SUEZ again works with Broadspectrum in a joint venture called Allwater. Both companies in an Alliance with SA Water are embracing change and finding better ways to do things to bring cost savings to the network.

The Alliance model enables SA Water to work flexibly with its partners to deliver water services to metropolitan customers. The model relies on expertise from all partners to drive improvements in operational efficiency, energy efficiency, asset management and supply chain with positive outcomes.

The results in Adelaide have been pleasing. For example, across the six wastewater treatment plants, the team has increased energy efficiency by five per cent in 2014­-15, translating to a total cost avoidance of $500,000.

The Alliance is also tapping into global expertise with a range of technical support and cooperative research initiatives underway. In February 2015 the alliance began a project to develop modelling tools to quickly identify composition of algal blooms in water resources.

It is clear that water utilities across Australia are faced with ageing infrastructure and limited capital. However, there are many opportunities in the short term to maximise the performance, decrease total cost and extend the life of our assets.

The Australian Infrastructure Plan presents some ideas. Firstly, on how the management of data and technology can play a role in helping operators to improve network efficiency and save costs. In the water sector, sensors are now being used to manage networks in real-­time, allowing more efficient management of established systems and improved response to customers’ needs.

The use of data assists operational decision making to reduce system leakage and allows capital expenditure to be prioritised and optimised. SUEZ has developed an innovative, real­-time network monitoring tool called Aquadvanced around the world.

Optimisation of energy usage and generation of energy to offset imported energy requirements in wastewater treatment facilities is well developed in the water industry, but even greater performance is being achieved through the deployment of emerging technologies.

In Amman in Jordan, SUEZ built, co-­financed, and has been operating the As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) since 2008.

Through hydro energy and biogas production, the WWTP is 80 per cent energy self­-sufficient with only 20 per cent of its needs drawn from the national grid. 230,000kWh of energy is produced per day.

Whether it’s in Jordan or Australia, the sharing of expertise has been key. Alliance models are about providing access to and transferring know­-how and expertise to local staff with a shared goal of improving operational efficiency. The model is working well in Australia and is contributing to improving the performance of our water utilities.

The 1st phase (2003) was financed by SUEZ and its partner Morganti, an affiliate of the Consolidated Contractors Group, USAID (United States Agency for International Development), and a pool of 10 local banks led by Arab Bank. The 2nd Phase (2012) was co-­financed by the same sponsors and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation); Arab Bank arranged a syndicate of nine local and international financial institutions to provide a loan. 

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