On 24th March, BlueTech Research supported by Du Pont Water Solutions, had engaging and enlightening workshop on water management in commercial buildings.

Paul O’Callaghan, CEO BlueTech Research, shares some key insights from the session:

  1. Despite many buildings being empty during the lock-downs – somewhat counter-intuitively, water demand didn’t drop proportionately
  2. The demands for cooling and irrigation remained and represented a baseload on water demand not linked to occupancy.

  3. Legionella outbreaks represent an existential risk as buildings re-open
    This is particularly the case where the expertise, the awareness, the ability to monitor and implement safety protocols is not well understood or the capacity is lacking
  4. Large campus owners need to build stronger links and trust with other water stakeholders in the community as this will present opportunities to co-elevate one another and understand the interlinkages between on-site re-use and knock-on impacts on centralised water systems.
  5. The economics of black water re-use are improving and achieving scale is an important element of what will drive this
  6. The higher cost, (the ‘Blue Premium’ ) for alternative water solutions, should be compared not against the costs for the water infrastructure that we have inherited, (which was essentially gifted to us by our forebears), but against the cost of the ‘next drop’, if built out today with full cost recovery, including life cycle maintenance.
  7. Instead of talking about ‘alternative water’, (as something we look for as a solution of last resort), we should have a mind-set of always looking at and evaluating ‘all water alternatives’.

General Messages from the Transfer-In

  1. Keep it subtle – make it jive with people’s lives and existing buildings so that its seamless
  2. Practice – we could do well by applying the 10,000 hours principle, practice leads to mastery.
  3. Endurance – the shifts towards water and carbon neutral buildings will not happen overnight, it will take years, which requires commitment
  4. Consistency – if we solve a problem in one place, and have identified that works, this means that we can apply that same solution, consistently in other places.

BlueTech’s take:
Commercial buildings can represent 25% to 55% of urban water demand. This is why they are locally significant in the built environment across the globe.

Three main areas are healthcare, lodging and offices, together making up the over two thirds of water demand in large commercial buildings.

If are looking for solutions that can move the needle on this, make a double-digit difference, we would see the following as being the key areas of opportunity:

Digital solutions – monitoring, measuring, managing.
There are compelling case studies now that show the impact and the difference these solutions can make for relatively low levels of investment

Rainwater capture
The economics remain unclear and contested, as does the precise climatic conditions in which this is viable, as are the treatment trains that are needed.

Black and Greywater re-use
We have the technologies, and the economics will improve as we get more adoption and scale.

Improving the efficiency of cycles of water in cooling towers & ability to use non-conventional water
Solutions such as forward osmosis show promise in the ability to use non-conventional water sources and tunable ion removal can increase the number of usable cycles and reduce blow-down frequency

Reducing hot water consumption is the biggest opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint associated with water in buildings.
There is 100X more energy used in heating water in the building, than is used in treating and transporting it. This is an area which is ripe for innovation.

One topic that triggered robust discussion within our team last week, was around the economics of rainwater harvesting. Some of our experts expressed the view that the payback was not there, noting that for one recent rainwater harvesting project:

“The ROI period on just the UF treatment unit was 15 years, not including collection, storage, reuse piping & other civil or M&E costs”. I would counter that UF may be over-kill for rainwater harvesting treatment, and that the economics would benefit from being benchmarked against the cost for the next new ‘marginal drop’.