Latin America: Why are water companies trying to save energy?

September 3, 2013


Water companies in Latin America met to share experiences on how to improve energy efficiency and reduce wastage.

  • In Latin America, 45% of water is lost before it reaches the customer
  • Globally, water and sanitation companies consume 4% of all the energy produced worldwide
  • Utility companies met in Argentina to share experiences on how to boost energy efficiency and reduce water loss

In Latin America, a massive 45% of water is lost before it reaches the customer. This non-revenue water not only compounds the challenge of increasing drinking water access, it also represents a huge loss of energy.

Water and sanitation companies around the globe consume around 4% of the total energy produced worldwide, but lose up to four fifths of that energy between plant and tap.

According to the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program, (ESMAP) energy efficiency measures can help water utilities reduce energy costs by 5 and 25%.

Concrete examples of this claim are:

  • The Alagoas Water and Sanitation Company (CASAL) and the São Paulo State Basic Sanitation Company (SABESP) increased water access from 13 to 24 hours after reducing the losses through broken pipes and illegal connections. Round-the-clock access is now a reality for one million more people in Benedito Bentes, a neighborhood in Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil.
  • An integrated energy management program by Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM), in Colombia actively tracks energy use throughout the water system. Their data identifies abnormalities and monitors efficiency goals. By doing this, from 2010 to 2013, EPM saved approximately US$455,000.
  • A program implemented by Uruguay’s Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE) in Ayui, Artigas, resulted in water savings of 382,000 m3 (corresponding to US$ 156,000) per year, reducing non-revenue water from 73 to 21 % and spurring a scale up movement throughout the country.  

Experiences like these were shared recently by water utilities, government agencies, and experts from eight Latin American countries in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in a knowledge and results exchange workshop.

" Reducing water losses is the most effective way for utilities to generate higher income and increase their supplies of potable water "

Gesner Oliveira

Expert in non-revenue water

Less water lost, more revenue

Energy efficiency programs have become increasingly relevant for water companies in Latin America. And the reasons were very clear for many of the participants who gathered in Argentina.

"Reducing water losses is the most effective way for utilities to generate higher income and increase their supplies of potable water," explained Gesner Oliveira, an Expert on non-revenue water in Brazil.

The most efficient use of energy and water are intrinsically connected, but among Latin America’s water companies, there is currently limited know-how on how to best build programs to promote energy efficiency.

This is why the knowledge sharing between participants was key to finding practical solutions to enable local governments and water utilities to boost energy efficiency and reduce water losses. These included:

  • Tracking performance via a reliable and robust information system
  • Training and building capacity
  • Managing infrastructure within the water network
  • Controlling water allocation and usage
  • Introducing a culture of water delivery at the lowest possible cost.

Successes such as these show a strong interest to improve and build more energy-efficient and less wasteful networks.

What’s more, by sharing experiences and exchanging knowledge, companies and local governments across Latin America now have a practical starting point from which to begin to improve the region’s water management.

"Exploring the Nexus between Water and Energy,” was coordinated jointly by Obras Sanitarias Mar del Plata – Batán (OSSE) and the World Bank’s Latin America Water Supply and Sanitation unit. The Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) and the World Bank provided technical and financial support.