The world's energy needs are growing. Projections from the World Energy Council indicate that energy usage will double by 2050. Predictions from Shell triple this usage.
Much of the energy in the United States is generated by fossil fuels. Their finite supply and environmental issues limit our ability to rely on them to meet future demand. Attention has been given to nuclear power as a substitute to fossil fuels, but this is a political hot topic for many people.
Fossil fuels also use between 14.2 and 28.4 liters of water for each kilowatt hour generated while nuclear uses between 31 and 74.9 liters for each kwh generated.
But other sources of energy also utilize water.
Energy companies drill for natural gas, deep into the rock layers in a process called "fracking.” This process uses water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rocks and release the gas. The fracking solution is extracted and has to be cleaned. The process uses fresh water and increases the need for treatment. Plus, this method has generated concern about groundwater contamination.
An article in Scientific American suggests that wind, water, and solar can provide for our future needs. In this article, the authors group hydroelectric, wave, and geothermal energy under the category of water. Hydroelectric systems, for the most part, remove energy from water as it is flowing in a river. Thus it does not consume water. Wave power comes from kinetic energy and does not remove water from the supply. Similarly, geothermal power can be a closed loop, resulting in minimal long-term impact on water use. The authors also talk about wind and solar. These sources have limits because wind and sunlight are not always available. There are ways to overcome this drawback.
The article does not discuss two other techniques: splitting water molecules and elevated storage plants. In the former, energy is used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The molecules are then recombined in a fuel cell to generate electricity when it is needed. Since the water can be repeatedly split and recombined, this will have a minimal impact on longer term water use. With the latter, wind and solar energy is utilized to pump water to a high-elevation storage facility. The water runs downhill through turbines to generate power when needed. Elevated or pumped storage plants, like Raccoon Mountain in Tennessee, remove water from a river or other source, reducing available water for utilities. Of course, over time the storage facility will return most of that water (minus evaporation) to the river, but this may not be convenient for the water utility. Furthermore, drought conditions can place competing demands between the storage facility and downstream water utilities. Currently, these types of facilities are somewhat rare so their impact on water availability is small. However, if wind and solar power are used in this way, then many pump storage facilities will need to be built. This will then have a cumulative impact on water usage.
Many wastewater facilities use their solids digesters for methane gas to generate electricity. A newer method, an electrogenic bioreactor, extracts electrons directly from bacteria in wastewater, providing energy that can be channeled out of the reactor. The process also produces hydrogen gas, which can be combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate more electricity. With 1.1 trillion kwhs of energy in wastewater, this provides a significant new source of energy.
As we can see, these technologies will push the water and wastewater field dead center into debate over the future of power generation. Thus, we will once again become the center of attention.
Posted by Grant Van Hemert, P.E., Schneider Electric Water Wastewater Competency Center on Mar 02, 2011 at 12:43 PM3 comments
“Mark from Michigan” interpreted my November post about the cholera outbreak in Haiti as an argument for capitalism. This got me to thinking. Is Mark correct?
Most facilities providing water or wastewater treatment for the general public are owned by governments or government-like agencies. Despite this type of ownership, the output of these facilities is regulated by a combination of EPA, regional, state, and local regulations. Private companies such as banks, engineering firms, contractors, and a variety of OEMs build or retrofit these facilities. Under this model, the United States has some of the best water treatment in the world (see earlier Quiet Waters blog posts), indicating that government control has done well in this market.
Does this mean that private ownership does not have a place in our industry? Not exactly. Private ownership promises to provide the same quality of water at a lower cost. Some of this is by combining the services of multiple utilities, such as Human Resources, under a single structure, for example. Some comes from other aspects of operations. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this blog.
If we went with a completely privately run water treatment industry managed by government regulations, then we would have an arrangement similar to that found in the food, airline, and power industries. All of these sectors have experienced some form of collapse: remember when FDA-inspected facilities have produced food contamination or (Alaska Airlines Flight_261) FAA-inspected airplanes had to be grounded for proper maintenance? And recall when (American Airlines 1420) pilots were so concerned about violating daily duty limits that they put lives at stake.
Private market supporters also can find fault and multiple fines within the government-run water treatment sector (the most famous of which is the 1993 Milwaukee incident), as well as problems in other industries (Amtrak/Conrail and public schools). Obviously, government-run sectors are not perfect, either.
To further add to the debate, we all know that public money is available based on political desire ─ which has left the United States with an aging infrastructure problem. On the other hand, private industries want to maximize profits; one way to accomplish this is to decrease spending on improvements and maintenance. Thus, even with a private model, we could still wind up with underfunded infrastructure. Such a scenario played out in the railroad industry of the late 1960s and 1970s, which led to the formation of government-controlled Conrail. Thus, we cannot blindly say that private industry will solve our water infrastructure problems.
As a whole, properly managed private industry does an incredible job. Despite the examples above, the airline industry has one of the safest records of any transportation industry. Food contamination is rare and is usually caught quickly. Of course, in our government-owned water treatment system, water contamination is rare. This is mostly because there are regulators who are tasked with verifying records and fining agencies if they do not comply.
So what can be said in conclusion? Either public or private ownership of treatment facilities can provide effective treatment, but both of these market forms must be regulated by a solid set of government agencies to ensure treatment methods are followed. Suggesting that one method is a cure-all, as “Mark from Michigan” has done, ignores the fact that both methods can provide solid treatment if regulated correctly.
Posted by Grant Van Hemert, P.E., Schneider Electric Water Wastewater Competency Center on Dec 07, 2010 at 12:00 AM3 comments
I, like many water and wastewater automation and control engineers, found myself in this field knowing little about the history of its evolution.
My current employer, Schneider Electric, asked me to create a training session for some employees who do not work in our field every day. I took the opportunity to dive deep into this history. As you might guess, the evolution of our field is very closely tied to the elimination of waterborne diseases. However, you might not be aware that the main disease was cholera.
During the 19th century, Europe and North America were under siege by this disease. Hundreds of thousands were losing their lives. In 1854, Dr. John Snow convinced the leadership of London that the SoHo cholera outbreak was related to contaminated water in a single well on Broad Street. This was revolutionary because germ theory was not known at the time and diseases were commonly thought to be transmitted via foul, or bad, air. Snow’s suggestion that water was the medium that helped to spread the disease flew in the face of accepted wisdom. However, the outbreak stopped after the pump handle of the well was removed.
While it was commonly accepted by the 1890s that cholera was waterborne, it was not universally understood that water treatment could stop cholera and other waterborne diseases. In 1892, cholera struck Hamburg, Germany. What makes this outbreak interesting is that Altona sits on the opposite bank of the same contaminated river, but residents in this city were spared the disease. Altona was using a slow sand filter while Hamburg was not.
Between Altona and Dr. Snow’s findings, the groundwork had been laid for the connection between disease-contaminated water and treatment with sand filtration, which could eliminate some waterborne disease. This knowledge is the basis for the conventional treatment philosophy used today.
Tragically cholera and other waterborne disease propagation in today’s world are often linked to a lack of education and wealth. Poorer countries often cannot afford water treatment technologies. Corrupt governments also siphon scarce resources from the water treatment arena. Furthermore, government policies and local traditions can sometimes get in the way of education.
Cholera recently raised its ugly head in Haiti. Considering what Haiti has been through, it is tragic that the people must face this hardship. But, since the earthquake, they are back in the nineteenth century. Thus, despite all of progress in the past 150 years, we are still right back at our roots.
Perhaps cholera has another lesson to teach. This time it might be to take the time and effort to make sure everyone is protected from waterborne disease. Not just the people living in wealthy, advanced countries.
Posted by Grant Van Hemert, P.E., Schneider Electric Water Wastewater Competency Center on Nov 02, 2010 at 12:43 PM3 comments
Remember the fable about a chicken that was hit in the head by a piece of falling fruit? She went around screaming, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling” and got all the animals in a paranoid uproar until a wise old lion showed them how silly they were.
Well, at WEFTEC I got involved in a "sky is falling" issue. It involves a nasty worm called Stuxnet that uses at least four separate vulnerabilities to penetrate a Microsoft Windows operating system.
Once inside a Windows-based system, the worm looks for a specific SCADA software and PLC brand. When Stuxnet finds the target, it adds some programming to the code. It is designed to update itself and spread via USB data sticks.
What the code does, no one is saying. But it is possible that the code would only prove to be detrimental on only one PLC system in the world. The suspicion is that the worm targeted Iranian nuclear facilities. If it hit the facility and caused damage, well … the Iranians aren’t talking (would you, if you were Iran?)
It does not take a lot of speculation to make plant operators fear that their control system is vulnerable and that violations and fish kills are around the corner. Relax. Here is why:
- Stuxnet was written to penetrate Siemens PLC-based control systems with Siemens SCADA software. Most water and wastewater plants in North America don’t use this brand, so the majority is immune from the worm as it is currently written. Even if it is on your SCADA computer, it is harmless. (Since I work for one of Siemens' competitors, I feel compelled to say that it appears that Siemens was targeted not because of an inherent product weakness, but more likely because it was being used at the facility of interest. Please don’t think I am Siemens bashing.)
- Only 1.6 percent of all infections occurred in the United States.
- From a computer security point of view, Stuxnet is not new. It was confirmed in June 2010, and anti-virus vendors have had time to react. Thus, scanning a USB stick should detect the virus.
- On Oct. 12, Microsoft released a patch to close the vulnerabilities forever.
So what does a utility do? Make sure that your anti-virus protection is up to date and your computers have the latest patches. This might be a challenge for some utilities since these patches come over the Internet, and many facilities keep their SCADA computers off of the Internet for security reasons. Be sure to scan every USB stick that will be used on your control systems. This includes outside contractors.
So the sky is not falling. Yes, SCADA and PLC manufacturers are quickly adjusting their procedures to account for Stuxnet, and possible copycats. But while this is happening, the odds are on your side. Also, if you are impacted by an infection, you can resort to manual control.
Security has become a new concern since September 11. Many plants are looking at it in a new light. We have all learned that a padlock should not be the only answer to facility security. Cameras, access control, chemical handling procedures, and SCADA security must also be part of the picture.
So what was the thud you heard? That was my wife dropping the pizza box on the dinner table. Gotta run.
Posted by Grant Van Hemert, P.E., Schneider Electric Water Wastewater Competency Center on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:43 PM0 comments
Over the weekend, President Obama announced a plan for $50 billion to go toward transportation improvements. You know the Three R’s: Rail, Roads and Runways. This is a good thing, and these areas do need improvement. But my first question was, “What about water? Where is our money?”
Of course, many will point to the 2009 stimulus and say, you got funds then. Yes we did, but so did transportation ─ why do they get a double dip? The whole reason why transportation got money is that the projects will be visible. The average citizen will drive by a road or railroad project and see what is being done. The whole point is to boost confidence so that the economy will recover.
So why did we not get any money? That is simple; we are not visible. For most people they just turn on the tap and out comes water, or they flush the toilet, and off it goes. Heck, I have talked to people who don’t even know the difference between water treatment and wastewater treatment. In short, we have done too good of a job for too darn long. For this we should all pat ourselves on the back. However, the downside is that we get overlooked.
President Obama needs to know that roads are the backbone of our economy, but we are the immune system. Our efforts, not medicine, have stopped many of the world’s worst diseases dead in their tracks. However, we cannot keep up the good work at current levels of funding. This will lead to contamination and water outages across the United States. What good is a healthy backbone if you are lying flat in bed with a stomach virus? This is what we offer.
Are we truly visible enough? You bet, some of the figures that come across my desk indicate that we have as much as 235,000 treatment facilities. These are all connected to massive pipe networks that reach a majority of the U.S. population. Many of these pipes have long outlived their design life, and failures are common. If we set about replacing these pipes, there would be road crews in and around every suburb and community in the United States. This is visibility. To me, a construction crew in your street is more obvious then seeing a sign at 70 mph that says the project was funded by the stimulus. Both road and water and wastewater would benefit.
Treatment projects would also be visible as each mayor or town manager can brag about their advancement in this critical area. The prospect of protecting public health is a strong play for any politician. It is also a “green” play. Investing in water infrastructure could end the era of bottled water, which uses three liters of water for each liter that is bottled. Plus, you have the oil used in making the bottle, and the resulting landfill issues.
If I had my way, I would use the $50 billion to:
Make funds available only for new projects. This means not allowing currently funded projects to “refinance.” This was done in the original stimulus package. This actually minimized the number of new projects that were started. By only giving this money to new projects, we can start to eliminate the backlog.
Keep, but clarify the “Buy American” clause. In my opinion, it would probably be best to get rid of the clause. But politically, this won’t fly. The Buy American clause must be clear and not cause months of debate at the expense of job creation.
Divide the project list into three different timelines: short-, medium- and long-term. Short-term would be projects that could be completed within 18 months. Medium-term projects could be started after 18 months but finished in 36 months. Long-term would be projects after 36 months. The $50 billion would then be divided equally among the three categories. If a category did not need the full amount, then the remainder would be shifted to the next category. This would kick start the process now, but ensure long-term investment so that the economy would truly benefit.
Don’t make this a loan. Some municipalities can’t afford a loan no matter how low the interest rate is. This is especially true of rural areas where jobs creation possibilities are limited. Thus, a loan prohibits improvements in these areas. Since we have three categories, then let’s tax Americans directly three times over a period of three years. This would be $53.94 each year per American ($50B divided by 309 million people). Of course, some would be excluded and others would pay more. Isn’t 54 bucks worth it? For me, $54 is a nice dinner out for my family.
President Obama did not notice us during his latest stimulus package. That, in my opinion, is because we do a great job. However, water spending has serious upside possibilities for politicians. But to get our fair share, we need to be much more vocal to Washington and point this out. After all, the health of our nation is much more important then transportation.
Posted by Grant Van Hemert, P.E., Schneider Electric Water Wastewater Competency Center on Sep 07, 2010 at 12:00 AM5 comments
Have you ever been to Chinatown in New York City? Canal Street and the area surrounding it is THE place to go for counterfeit fashion designer bags. What is the harm in getting a $1,000 bag for $40? The only people that get hurt are the big bloated fashion companies with their big bloated profits and big bloated egos, right?
The viewpoint of "sticking it to the (fashion) man" is not uncommon, and many people don’t care that Prada or another label has lost a few million. After all, it is a bag, and no one is going to get hurt if a poorly made stitch comes undone, right?
But what about counterfeit industrial parts such as circuit breakers, valves, or valve actuators? Are these as harmless as a fake designer bag? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Industrial parts often times are designed to contain and control immense amounts of energy. If the parts are not well designed and well made, the energy can be released in a devastating way that can damage property, or worse, life.
Counterfeiters don't worry about quality; they just want to make a quick buck and not get caught. Today, they have become adept at distributing products that can't be traced back to them, relieving them of any liability when a part does fail.
My company, Schneider Electric, is being counterfeited on a daily basis. We have found counterfeits of our Square D circuit breakers, contactors, pressure switches, and other products. The danger can be sobering.
Some of the counterfeit circuit breakers Schneider Electric has found are labeled for 10,000 amps, but have failed as low at 3,000 Amps. The company even found one of our European circuit breakers with just a wire soldered between the terminals. Good luck on getting that to trip. The end result of these low-quality products is an increased fire risk, and risk of injury or death.
Is this limited to just Schneider Electric and their Square D product lines? No. Eaton, Siemens, and all other electrical product manufacturers with decent market share are being affected. The same with valve, actuator, and other manufacturers. “Google” counterfeiting and you will find a lot of information.
Worldwide, counterfeiting of all products is estimated at 6 percent of global trade with an estimated value of $350 billion. In 2007 alone, U.S. Customs officials confiscated $16 million in counterfeit electrical products (video).
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Buy products only from reputable suppliers. Since many of the counterfeiters use the Internet to deliver their products, be careful when using that avenue. All of the major electrical suppliers have distributor finders on their Websites. For other manufacturers, call them directly and find out who the authorized supplier is.
- Be careful of "too good to be true" deals. Most counterfeiters will entice you with low cost. If it appears too good to be true, chances are it is.
- Insist on having a supplier provide a “Chain of Commerce,” which will allow you to find the point of manufacture. All you have to do is prove where you bought the part from, usually by keeping a packing list and purchase order paperwork. This provision should be added to project specifications but also as a way to ensure your local electrician does not use a part that was already in his truck.
- If you suspect a counterfeit, do not just toss it and replace it. Contact the manufacturer of the legitimate version of the part so that company can confirm the status of your part and then pursue the counterfeiter.
One final thought: Who do you think profits from this type of counterfeiting? Some may think that these are “Mom and Pop” shops in poor countries that are just trying to make enough money to feed their kids. The truth is much more insidious.
One facility that Schneider Electric raided was geared up to produce 3 million counterfeit Square D QO circuit breakers annually. Who would have the ability to run such a large-scale operation? If your answer is organized crime, you are correct. But, it gets worse, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was financed through the sale of counterfeit textiles (pdf).
So, when you think about it, even buying that knockoff purse causes harm to more than just the manufacturer.
Posted by Grant Van Hemert, P.E., Schneider Electric Water Wastewater Competency Center on Aug 02, 2010 at 12:43 PM3 comments
Two things happened to me recently that got me thinking about security. One is that I had an in-depth talk with one of AWWA’s experts in security while at the American Water Works Association's annual conference (ACE) last week. The other was a chance to review a research paper on water security for a colleague. I started to wonder, how many of you are secure? Are you sure about that?
I have heard quite a few people start to talk about security and immediately go to September 11 and terrorist threats. This is where I normally tune out. After all, there is a bit of hysteria around terrorism, and some is overplayed.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that terrorism is irrelevant to water and wastewater. I'm saying that it has to be managed. We have to remember what terrorists want ─ to strike fear into all of us. To do this, they will strike targets with big impact and good media coverage. If you are an operator in a large city such as New York, Detroit, or Seattle, then yes, you have to worry about it. Terrorism also is a concern if your plant is located in a high-profile town, such as a major amusement park in Florida or an upper-class Colorado ski resort. But, if you are an operator in a rural farming town, terrorism is not so much of a concern but it doesn't let you off the hook, either.
Smaller facilities still have to worry about security breaches, which can be broken down into two categories: malicious and non-malicious.
Malicious breaches are done by terrorists or, more likely, disgruntled individuals. Attacks can be virtual, such as a computer virus, Trojan, or worm, and these can be prevented by good security software and network access policies. The individual can be a greater concern because he or she might act out in anger or exploit your facility's weakness without taking the time to study the facility. Although the risk of damage from a malicious attack is quite high, the incidence of occurrence is low.
In non-malicious breaches of security, the individual does not intend to harm the facility but does just the same. One of the people I talked to at ACE last week told me that an operator tried to load his favorite computer game onto the SCADA computer, which crashed the system. Yes, the person acted in poor judgment, and yes, the person’s behavior needs to be addressed, but he probably did not intend to harm the facility. Another case happened to me directly. A contractor plugged a drill into the socket inside a control panel my company supplied. The drill's brushes were well worn, and the resulting back feed of low-level harmonics took out a PLC power supply, rendering automatic control from that panel useless. Usually damage from this type of breach is minor, but the incidence of occurrence is high.
So how do you protect your facility? Start with the non-malicious breach. This also will lay a nice foundation for protection against the malicious attacker. For the specific steps, you should contact a security expert for recommendations.
Also, be aware that security requirements are changing. The government is looking at ways to tighten SCADA security. From what I have been told, the focus on the SCADA security initiative is on energy utilities. However, the recommendations are probably binding to all SCADA systems. It is possible that each municipality will have to adopt measures that were developed for larger systems.
With the impact that we have on our communities, we all need to ask ourselves if we are secure. The answer to this question should always be “No.” Then we need to ask what we can do to make ourselves secure. After all, as Edmund Burke said in the 18th century, it is “Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident security.”
Posted by Grant Van Hemert, P.E., Schneider Electric Water Wastewater Competency Center on Jul 05, 2010 at 12:43 PM1 comments