Best company reports of 2015
The Success Story of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority
With new management, PWSA has evolved into one of the most efficient water utilities in the country.
The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA), founded in 1984, was born to manage a $200 million capital improvement program intended to overhaul the city’s aging water treatment and distribution infrastructure.
Not only was some the equipment getting run down, but more strict water quality requirements mandated by both the state and federal governments necessitated an intelligent restructuring of a system that, at the time, supplied water to tens of thousands.
Today, that system, upgraded several times over, supplies fresh water to more than 86,000 people throughout the city of Pittsburgh.
But PWSA's story isn't over yet—the organization is striving to improve every day with a range of changes that will move the city of Pittsburgh into a greener future while improving the operational efficiency at PWSA itself.
The Operational Efficiencies
There was a time when PWSA lagged behind in the race to enter the 21st century. Problems like long call wait times and poorly optimized finances plagued the department which had for so long served as a beacon to the rest of the nation.
That changed in 2012 when the PWSA Board of Directors authorized an agreement with Veolia Water North America— since renamed Veolia Environment— that would allow the private entity to take a degree of control at PWSA while trimming fat from the budget and improving the department.
Along with the agreement, Veolia instated interim Executive Director Jim Good, a Veolia employee, to right the ship.
"I gave the hallelujah amen sermon," Good told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2013. "I told them that we were there to work with the employees as their partners. I provided assurances that there wouldn't be any layoffs and that together we could achieve anything." Read more
North American Power: The power of exceptional
By setting the bar high, one small company is quickly becoming a powerhouse in the deregulated retain energy supply industry
Coming from an executive with over 40 years of industry experience, that statement from North American Power’s CEO, Deryl Brown, is really saying something about the company that has grown from a small handful of passionate people working in a 700 square foot sublet in 2009 to a top leader in supplying electricity and natural gas within deregulated markets today.
Why is North American Power so unique? In a recent interview, Brown, CIO Jim Crysdale, and CMO Greg Breitbart discussed North American Power’s success, detailing the company’s brand value proposition, emphasis on technology, and commitment to achieving “exceptional.”
Making energy easier goes a long way
As one of the nation’s fastest-growing energy suppliers, North American Power tackles a variety of obstacles and challenges that face the retail energy industry—one of which is the perception that the average consumer has a short attention span when it comes to the energy they use.
Greg Breitbart, North American Power’s CMO, argues that it’s not that consumers don’t care about their energy use, but rather they are frustrated by how hard it is to understand why their energy costs what it does, and what they can do to use less.
“There’s a common assumption made in our industry that people don’t care about energy that much and they only spend a few minutes every year thinking about it,” he continued. “We challenge that notion. Every time you make a decision to turn off a light as you’re walking out the door or raise or lower your thermostat, you are subconsciously thinking about your energy consumption.”
With this in mind, North American Power is introducing a monthly energy report that will provide its customers with insights into how their home is using energy—including a percentage breakdown of their usage (e.g. 25% used for air conditioning, 10% used for lighting, etc.), and personalized steps they can take to reduce their energy costs. This report, which is a type of service that no other supplier outside of Texas currently offers, uses information provided during the enrollment process so that it can be tailored to the customer’s home and energy habits. Read more
Ergon Energy: Regional Queensland Energy Supplier
Executive General Manager Peter Billing discusses innovation and reveals upcoming initiatives on the horizon for Queensland.
Ergon Energy is more than just your average energy company. Founded in 1999, the government-owned corporation is a forward-thinking electricity provider. It services more than 720,000 customers across Queensland by supplying electricity and alternative solutions to residents and businesses from the coastal population to the rural and remote communities throughout the region.
The Queensland company is comprised of two sides: one that builds and maintains the electricity distribution network, and one that sells electricity to residential and business customers.
Ergon Retail is the face of the company, assisting customers in everything from opening new accounts, arranging location moves and managing electricity use to locating convenient ways to pay accounts, support systems and government rebates.
The distribution side of the business, Ergon Energy, provides energy services to residents and businesses while maintaining an electrical network that stretches roughly 160,000 kilometers of power lines across Queensland. Within the network operates 33 stand-alone power stations that provide energy to isolated communities within the region.
Additional services include accommodating connections for new technologies such as solar, as well as a small manufacturing group to handle the construction of module substations.
Unlike your typical energy provider, Ergon Energy is driven by innovation.
“Innovation is huge for us. It’s an important part of our business and we’re always looking at new ways to apply new innovation throughout the company,” said Peter Billing, executive general manager of customer service at Ergon Energy.
According to Billing, the company continuously seeks out new ways of improving service – whether through infrastructure or alternative energy sources – to better position themselves for the future.
“We recognized back in 2007 that the price for energy would become an issue and that we would need to adapt,” Billing revealed. “It got us thinking differently and we realized if we keep doing things the way we’ve always done them, the world will change and we’ll become obsolete. Read more
Schneider Electric: Turning Today’s Risk into Tomorrow’s Opportunity
The industrial landscape today is plagued with complex energy management challenges. Businesses are under increasing pressure to meet tight production demands while delivering quality goods and services, at a lower cost, with minimum impact on the environment. Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management and offers its clients solutions and services from a device level all the way to an enterprise level.
The company’s suite of solutions and team of experts can provide clients with real insight into energy consumption. Armed with this knowledge, their clients can identify possible savings - and with Schneider’s help - can balance their energy costs and production goals. Not only can Schneider help reduce costs by optimising its clients’ energy needs, but it can also improve the overall efficiency of individual enterprises.
Schneider Electric is a global organization, employing in excess of 170,000 individuals with an annual turnover of approximately €25 billion. The company is divided into five individual divisions, which are Industry, Buildings, IT, Technology and Governance. Schneider Electric’s Global Solutions department spans all five divisions to provide energy and sustainability services to its global client base.
• Related: Year in review: Top energy stories of 2015
“Our mantra as an organisation is to help customers to identify processes and target strategies for addressing sustainability and energy challenges. We then help them deploy bespoke technology solutions in order to address those challenges. In effect, we span the entire Schneider Group and help to deploy the resources across Schneider in the right way for the right type of company. That can be the PV division as part of a renewable energy strategy for a customer or any associated technology applications within that,” explains Andy Dewis, vice president of international solutions EMEIA. Read more
A Fair Wind Over Lake Turnkana
Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP), after nine long years of negotiation and prepartiion, is now an active project that will be delivering 300 megawatts of power to the Kenyan grid by the end of 2016.
A barren moonscape pitted with volcanic craters, arid and inhospitable, and populated by warring tribes people. That is one view of northern Kenya, and in a sense it is true: but a dualistic world view that only sees ‘challenges’ misses the point entirely. The counties of Turkana and Marsabit have extraordinary qualities. Among these is their wildlife, for example it was the prospect of catching six-foot Nile perch weighing nearly 390 stone that attracted entrepreneur Willem Dolleman to the shores of Lake Turkana in the late 1980s. His main problem was the relentless wind that would take control of his boat – no tent that he could obtain could withstand the force of those winds, and he often had to give in and sleep in his car.
The potential of harnessing those forces for electricity generation was not lost on Dolleman and his friend Carlo van Wageningen, but at that time wind power was still an embryonic technology, and the low cost of oil put it out of contention. Wind power development required subsidies, and none would be forthcoming in Africa. It was not until 2005, when oil prices rose above £50 per barrel for the first time, that they, together with Chris Staubo decided it was time to take another look. The ‘founding fathers’ of LTWP called up Harry Wassenaar and Kasper Paardekooper of KP & P, a company with a history of developing and operating wind power projects, to bring some specialist expertise to the project.
They were highly sceptical. Wassenaar, an old school friend of Dolleman, was however persuaded to come for a holiday. “He fell in love with the place as soon as he saw it,” says van Wageningen. “The wind itself convinced him!” With the help of Henk Hutting another veteran of wind power, if that is the right word in such a new industry, who confirmed the reliability of the wind flow in the area, LTWP was set up in Kenya under the ownership of KP & P BV, and the real work began.
Early this year LTWP chairman Mugo Kibati accepted the Project Finance International (PFI) African Renewable Deal Award 2014 in recognition of the way the project finance was put together up to final financial close in December 2014 – it was considered the best project finance structure achieved in the region over the last couple of decades. “The MoU between Willem Dolleman, Carlo van Wageningen and Chris Staubo was signed in 2005 so it took nine years for us to complete the development phase,” says van Wageningen. That was three years longer than the founding fathers had hoped for, but explicable considering the complexity of the project and the painstaking way in which project and political risks perceived by lenders had to be mitigated. Read more
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere