Working within energy management I find myself very lucky in that I can impact on areas of value to me as a whole.
This opportunity to reduce environmental impact, was very attractive and set as one of my main priorities when taking this role with council.
In Northern Ireland there is a general perception that water comes at little to no cost either in terms of financial cost, or cost to the environment. So this focus on water, has given opportunity to raise awareness of all costs associated with water across all levels of council.
The issue has been addressed with elected members who have shown leadership, and across all staffing levels through our environmental champions, and monitoring officers. Good working relationships and strong lines of communication, have been forged and opened up across internal and external stakeholders, including the utility provider, other councils, contractors, building managers, and staff.
It feels very much like the beginning of a journey, which is attracting more interaction as we go. Given the level of staff engagement, and very proactive approach that is flourishing, its exciting to be part of the group engaged in this work within council. It is also very fulfilling to know that we are on this journey, and this work is making a contribution to other efforts that are usually more directly liked to carbon reduction.
Using historic water consumption data, a 3 year review was carried out on a site by site basis in order to identify spikes, trends and / or outliers. Where any of these occurred in the data, further investigation was actioned to identify any possible underlying cause.
The issue of increased water consumption was addressed at a Climate Change cross party group, where any investment related to addressing the issue was encouraged.
Energy and M&E staff worked in partnership on reviewing consumption data against, works and maintenance records. Where no valid reason was identified, site visits were carried out for further investigation. Where the underlying cause of increased consumption was not easily identified as related to plumbing / heating issues, the contracted council provider was instructed to carry out a review. Where these reviews did not account for the increase, a specialist in underground leak detection was engaged to review each site.
Follow-up meetings with senior management update on progress, and encouraged further review.
Before this exercise, council relied mainly on the supplier to identify sites where water loss may be occurring, where we are now in a position to identify leaks before they become so significant as to be flagged by a provider.
This new approach has been especially valuable at sites where there has been slow burn type leaks, where severity slowly increases over time, and would not come to the attention of the provider, or immediately jump out as an issue from data analysis. This only became apparent when following up with the supplier we were able to track consumption increases as they would be expected relate to changes in service provision. This give them a better understanding of what would be expected at each site. Which further provided a degree of clarity for the utility provider, where for example their system may see a significant increase in consumption over time as relating to "increased production" at site, where it was in fact a leak increasing in severity as the corrosion worsened over time, or ground conditions for escape responded to ongoing water loss.
As we have been developing the water the management process in an iterative approach, we have learned some lessons along the way. Some sites initially identified as having higher consumption due to a change in services, or relating to building works, were subsequently identified as having a water loss issue. Assumptions that an increase in water demand at a site can be dismissed due to dynamic requirements at the site will be avoided in future, and engagement with the service provider at a n earlier stage may have provided greater opportunity for further cost recovery.