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Modernised building utilities save money and resources

Water resources are under significant pressure, pushed to the brink by the modernising world, rapid urbanisation, and population growth. Utility management philosophies had not considered these long-term pressures, particularly not where it concerns water.

Indeed, even today, many resource management plans at sites such as factories and housing complexes treat water in a monolithic way. Often, they don’t have a choice – older water infrastructure doesn’t provide the nuance and visibility to truly appreciate where we can be more efficient and intelligent with water use.

Xylem’s slogan is to ‘Lets Solve Water’, and we often encounter this situation. Though there is an appreciation that we need to take water management more seriously, the means to do so are often unavailable. This naturally leads to a cost concern – replacing water infrastructure sounds expensive, and thus the best intentions get blunted or waylaid by financial barriers.

But it doesn’t need to be the case, not today. There have been extensive progress and breakthroughs around water technology, and modern solutions from Xylem can realise a level of value that moots budgetary concerns. To make the point, let’s look at building utilities.

Modernising a building

Buildings are not short-term entities. They can be around for decades, and their internal workings are often also meant to function for as long. Ripping and replacing internal plumbing, pumps, and readers can be costly as well as self-defeating, so the very idea of modernising a site’s water systems is often very unappealing.

The first step to avoid this perception is to divide a building’s water usage into different categories. A building will have water storage and boosting systems. It might also have systems for waste- and stormwater, as well as firefighting measures. Then there are HVAC systems that consume water to cool or heat the building.

Any of these areas can offer significant benefits if they could make use of modern technologies. A prime example is the deployment of pumps with Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs). Traditional pumps don’t have much granularity in their performance: they either pump, or they don’t, and when they do, it’s at a set rate. Yet water usage varies during the day. Sometimes the pumps work too hard and sometimes not hard enough. These factors result in two common problems: too much power consumption and too much demand for maintenance.

In contrast, VFD pumps change their activity based on the system’s demand, correlated with smart meters and monitoring systems. In a Xylem case study, we retrofitted pumps at New York City’s Astor Place. Before the retrofit, a stunning 30% of the building’s utility costs went to electricity for the pumps. Once Xylem and its partners established a hydraulically-balanced system, pumping energy used dropped by an unbelievable 95%. Unbelievable because even the executing team didn’t think it would work that well.

New York’s Twin Peaks residential blocks offer another example. Constructed in the 1970s, these buildings are a typical example of outdated building management systems and technical challenges, such as boilers in very tight spaces. Xylem and its partners deployed VFDs and integrated sensor component products to upgrade the Twin Peaks boilers and create substantial energy savings.

Solving Water

Many buildings outlive their internal fittings. It’s relatively easy to renovate a floor but substantially more challenging to realise better plumbing, heating, cooling and those areas that affect a building’s utility bill. The choice once was to either change them at great expense or leave them to degrade further. But Xylem provides a third choice.

At Xylem, we apply our knowledge and innovation to water challenges, including better utility management and visibility. We have substantial market-leading solutions, covering industrial, commercial and residential water needs. But why now? Why couldn’t we make such valuable changes decades ago?

The answer is progress in innovation and digital technology. Using the best in new materials and designs, we offer modular, retrofit-friendly solutions. These focus on creating real value and are designed to operate without frequent maintenance or operator interventions.

Our approach is also suited to the modern market’s needs. Xylem doesn’t drop in from above with a big bang, ‘do as we say’ attitude. We embrace collaboration, leveraging homegrown partners that know the territory they work in. Xylem doesn’t reflexively remove our competitors’ equipment – we will always augment, improve and refurbish where we can. We see value as something that comes from collaboration, not dictating to our customers and partners.

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