Improved water supply system could also produce electricity

A new research project will gather experts from Bangor University and Trinity College Dublin to investigate ways of making water supply infrastructure more energy efficient.

They hope to develop technology to utilise excess pressure in the system to produce electricity that can be used locally or sold back to the grid — while, at the same time, reducing CO2 emissions and operating costs associated with supplying treated water.

‘The water industry is very energy intensive. This project could help reduce its associated environmental impact and economic costs,’ said Dr Prysor Williams of Bangor — with colleague Dr Aonghus McNabola of Trinity adding that the technology could also potentially reduce metering charges for individual customers.

Water supply involves considerable energy consumption, cost and CO2 emissions in water treatment, pumping and monitoring. Treated water is most commonly supplied to a community from a central storage reservoir by gravity throughout a catchment system, and this water must be supplied within satisfactory pressure bands. 

Where the pressure in water flow becomes too high, a Break Pressure Tank (BPT) is commonly installed in the network, whereby the pressure, kinetic and potential energy within the flow is dissipated to the atmosphere. These BPTs present an opportunity to recover energy from water-supply networks by means of a hydropower turbine system, producing electricity without interfering with the water supply service.

The Hydro-BPT concept is being investigated from three perspectives. First, the engineering design and technical feasibility are being investigated by Trinity College Dublin’s School of Engineering; second, the organisational and business model for the implementation of this new technology in practice is being developed by Trinity College Dublin’s Business School; and third, the potential environmental impacts of the technology (energy resource and CO2 emissions savings) are being investigated by Bangor University.

‘From a business and management research perspective there are two challenges: the first is how to build and sustain a network of partners that can exploit this opportunity; the second is how to establish a venture to commercialise the research findings,’ said Prof Paul Coughlan, of Trinity’s School of Business.

The Hydro-BPT Project team were awarded around €500,000 (£440,400) in part-funding by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland–Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A).