Energy innovation on the road to the water utility of the future

Cover story


The National Association of Clean Water Agencies supports municipal wastewater utilities in the US in their growing pursuit of new energy opportunities, as part of its wider efforts to promote the Utility of the Future concept. Keith Hayward heard from its CEO, Adam Krantz, who will be chairing a session on the new energy and resource recovery paradigm at the forthcoming World Water-Tech North America event.

Energy and resource recovery by the water utility of the future (© yky/shutterstock)
Energy and resource recovery by the water utility of the future (© yky/shutterstock)

The growing trend for water and wastewater utilities, particularly the latter, to rethink their approach to energy is at the heart of a move to break from traditional approaches in the sector, according to Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies in the US. ‘I think it’s a huge paradigm shift potentially in terms of the broader concept of what we call the Utility of the Future, with the wastewater treatment plants and even to some degree the drinking water side seeing themselves as resource recovery agents,’ he says.

Technology has an important part to play, offering high efficiency options especially in terms of capitalising on the potential to generate power from biogas. ‘I do think we’re getting to a point now where those technologies and the technical know-how seem to be pretty accessible,’ says Krantz. Utilities can aim to become net zero energy users. ‘[This] is becoming a very significant goal for our utilities across the country,’ he adds. Increasingly this includes middle-sized utilities, not just the largest ones, and the approach can be pushed further to achieve net energy production, selling energy back to the grid.

‘You’re looking at one of the largest elements of any utility’s operation and maintenance budget – energy use – now being an area where they’re saving significant funds and in some, albeit rare, instances starting to sell it back to the grid and having it actually be a revenue-positive aspect of their treatment systems,’ says Krantz.


Incentives and innovation

With the technology relatively mature, there is a question of how to achieve wider uptake. Krantz identifies one potential area as being how to use the tax system to provide incentives. Utilities are mostly public entities, so this may not provide a direct means of influencing things. ‘The utilities are tax exempt. We don’t pay taxes, so tax incentives don’t induce us towards the right behaviour,’ he says.

It could however be possible to provide tax credits to the businesses supplying the technology and expertise needed. ‘That is an area the Energy Bill that’s currently being discussed [I the US] is exploring,’ says Krantz.

Previous efforts in this area have included the use of discounted loan rates for green energy projects through the federally-supported State Revolving Loan Fund.

More generally, the issue of uptake links to how the sector approaches innovation. ‘Innovation at its core means someone has to be the innovator or the first out of the box,’ says Krantz. The current regulatory structure is however stacked against this because of concerns that innovation brings risk into an area aimed a protecting the environment and human health.

To view the full article, log in here. New users can register here for free trial access, or subscribe here.

The World Water-Tech North America Summit will take place on 2-3 November in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

For more information, see




  • USA, NACWA, wastewater and energy, utility management