Utility Week

Uberflip 17 01 14

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Operations & Assets Market view Compared with what? The water industry needs effective benchmarks so that it can measure the quality and efficiency of its processes and institute best practice across the industry, says Ajay Nair. It is intriguing, and a bit worrying, that in our business lives we're ruled by performance indicators and benchmarks, and over the past few years we have seen the same creeping into our personal lives, be it how much we spend on energy this year compared with last year to our cars telling us we're not driving to optimum efficiency. More and more, it seems, everything in our lives has to be compared with something or someone else. The same could be said of the water industry. Water companies are used to being compared against each other in Ofwat league tables for different performance criteria, but can we extend the art of benchmarking performance into other areas? With the pressures to reduce operating costs, can we use benchmarking to provide both technical insights and psychological incentives to help us with these operating cost challenges? Yes we can, but only if the industry is willing to standardise its approach and adopt meaningful benchmarks that make a real difference. While relatively successful, there is still debate in the industry about which are the right benchmarks to use, as well as how much effort and data are needed to make sure they are valid. There are many good reasons why a treatment plant cannot be benchmarked by comparison with others – different processes, consents and influents, for example. However, if the purpose of benchmarking is to galvanise improvements by showing what could be achieved, then you can only inspire this action by comparing a treatment plant with itself. Having returned to motor sports recently, I can say from personal experience that there is nothing more inspiring than an experienced driver taking your racing car out and giving you a lap-time time you know you should be able to achieve without spending an eternity making (and blaming) set-up changes. We need to get the best out of what we have before comparing it against others. Benchmarking is vital to drive improvements. However, those only comparing one site against another are of limited value. We need more specific targets tailored to each treatment site, giving you and your particu- lar make of car a lap-time to aim for. Using ing exactly the system, who knows what the another car analogy, if we compared our truth actually is? Let me give you a further example of why average fuel consumption against our neighbour's, it would be meaningless unless we measurement without wisdom can lead to normalised things such as car type, journey false conclusions. A treatment plant in the type, traffic, number of passengers, and so UK underwent an optimisation project on on. My target is not what my neighbour's its aeration system. The improvement was car does, but what my car should be able to measured by comparing energy consumption from the same month the previous year. achieve. So what are the right benchmarks for When the results came back they showed a the water industry? Just focusing on energy slight increase in energy consumption and consumption, then using kilowatt-hours per so the project was declared a failure. In population equivalent per year is a great fact, the different wastewater temperature between the two corresponding starting point for consumption. This months was such that it masked is great, as long as for each actual a 15 per cent reduction in energy. value we provide the target value Without the improvements, the – not the best of the rest, but one plant would have used even more that represents what is achievable. energy. We can call this the "should be" We know that when benchperformance. marks are publicly displayed they Generally speaking for water or can deliver performance improvewastewater treatment, that value ments. Austria, Switzerland and changes for each site, but also during each hour, month and season Benchmarks Germany have all produced guidance documents that set out tarbecause of the impacts of so many only get energy efficiency benchmarks variables. But with the power of comparing (the best lap-times) in wastewater modern computers and software, we treatment plants. can produce dynamic models that one site These guidelines have been provide us with dynamic targets on against applied to sites in Australia to a daily basis. Just imagine how pow- another are understand wastewater treatment erful it would be if we could couple of limited performance. They have also been real-time measurement against realused to compare UK treatment time targets, shown in real time at a value plant performance and we fall real plant to a real operator. Currently, at best we may get real-time short on most occasions. It is fair to say that measurement, which is pretty much use- Austria has enjoyed successful reductions less, especially when it is recorded 80km in energy consumption by providing benchaway from the site using it. Even more frus- marks and making it easy for operators to trating is when we measure performance compare their plant against a "should be" and then make judgements on performance performance as well as against their peers. based on some measurements taken from We can and should do the same in the UK. So here is a challenge for the UK water an earlier time period. I heard the following conversations between operators and team sector, its directors and chief executives. Do leaders. Team leader: "How come we used you really know which are your most effimore power last week?" Operator: "Because cient works, and can you accurately quanit's been raining." Two weeks later: "We've tify how good they actually are? If we could used more power again, why?", "It's been answer these questions, then we could dry and we've had no rain." These responses make real leaps forward in performance and were both genuine and neither was said with energy usage. any intent to deceive. Without understand- Ajay Nair, technical director, MWH UTILITY WEEK | 17th - 23rd January 2014 | 25

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