The energy crisis and rapidly escalating electricity costs has seen a lot effort going into energy management and efficiency initiatives– and with good cause. However, companies could also be flushing a large percentage of their profits down the drain due to inefficient, out of date water systems and infrastructure.
"In many areas of South Africa, water efficiency has not been top of mind for businesses, as we are privileged to have reasonably high levels of rainfall and water is generally quite readily available,” says Karl van Eck, regional GM: Africa at Johnson Controls Global Energy Solutions.
“However, water is said to become one of the world's scarcest resources over the next few decades if something is not done to stop wasteful usage now, and quite aside from this, for businesses more efficient use of water can save potentially thousands of rand a month,” he adds.
"One of the major problems South Africa faces over the next few years is not necessarily a water shortage, although this may happen over the next twenty years if nothing is done to stop wasteful usage, but an aging infrastructure that simply will not be able to keep up with increasing demand," adds Rip Wyma of Shared Energy Management, a Johnson Controls partner. "The supply lines can only carry so much water, and if demand begins to exceed supply then we will begin to experience pressure issues, and will not have enough water at outlets and taps. This is not something that can be quickly remedied as installing new pipelines is no small task."
In addition, due to the degradation of infrastructure, underground leaks are becoming increasingly common. These are more difficult to spot than the leaks that make their way above ground, and as a result can often go undetected, meaning that water is pouring away into the soil and the added expense is passed on to the consumer. Leaks can directly affect businesses, as if the leak is in their building infrastructure they will be paying for the wasted water as part of their utility bill, adding significantly to the cost of water.
Expensive, treated drinking water is also often used in commercial buildings for irrigation and gardening, which not only wastes this water but also adds to the expenses of the business.
"South Africans are used to having an abundance of water and as a result have had a fairly lax attitude when it comes to water conservation,” Wyma poins out. “However, water is becoming more and more expensive, with Johannesburg being the most pricey at R25.00 a kilolitre, and the repercussions of careless water usage on the pocket are beginning to be felt. Attitudes are slowly starting to change around water efficiency, and the good news is that there are simple changes that can be made to save water and as a result save money.”
Grey water irrigation is one solution to the water efficiency problem, where water that is used for washing and other purposes can be reused as flushing water or for gardening purposes. However this requires a double pipe system, which means that retrofitting into older buildings can be complicated and costly.
New buildings, however, can easily be planned with a grey water system in mind, designed into the structure from day one, which can halve water consumption, saving enormous sums of money.
"In fact in new commercial buildings this type of system is a step towards achieving a Green Star energy rating, which has become something of a status symbol, used for marketing purposes, and as a result grey water systems are becoming increasingly common," says Wyma.
"In older buildings where a grey water system may not be feasible there are still things businesses can do to reduce water usage. A profile of water consumption, similar to an energy audit, can be conducted to find out how much water is being used at the council water metre, the annual consumption patterns of an organisation and what types of fixtures are being used," van Eck says.
"From there we can see whether there are leaks, whether the taps are closing properly, whether toilets are constantly running and so on and fix these problems. We can also recommend upgraded fixtures such as motion sensor flush and tap systems which will decrease water consumption."
Optimising water consumption in such a fashion can greatly benefit the bottom line, yielding up to 60% savings in water consumption, which can in fact be a greater saving than those achieved by energy consumption efficiency methods. Water usage can also easily be integrated into an existing building management system to enable a more proactive approach to savings. The system can be used to pick up pulses from council water metres, and with the addition of a water metre on outflow on commercial roof tanks, can be used to identify failing systems inside, such as toilets that are constantly running, which can use up to 2000 litres of water an hour.
Building management systems can help building owners to ensure greater efficiency and therefore greater savings when it comes to water consumption.
"While water efficiency has not received the same publicity as the need to conserve electricity, due to the fact that it has not yet become a crisis in South Africa, the fact is that if something is not done today then water could indeed become a scarce commodity in the future. Saving water also means saving money, something which makes sense for every business and commercial building owner, and saving water does not necessarily mean implementing expensive new systems. With a few simple steps greater water efficiency and the resultant savings are easy enough to realise," Van Eck says.