Opinions & Interviews
Sustainability in Water Companies: The Case of ACEA ATO2
Sustainability is one of the largest challenges that every company has to face in order to evolve towards an economic system that is able to combine protection of the environment, social and economic development.
Water service managers are defined as "sustainable by vocation," since their fundamental mission is to guarantee present and future generations access to water services, a primary good for survival, ensuring the protection of the quality and quantity of water resources. They integrate the environmental dimension with economic development and the ethical-social dimension to simultaneously pursue three goals: the efficient management of water resources, guaranteeing regeneration and minimizing waste, and the protection of the environment in general; the efficient allocation of water, and the production of income and employment through an effective combination of resources; and the generation of social equity for users, employees, and all other stakeholders also through the realization of investments in infrastructure and technological innovation.
The main factors that can accelerate the path of sustainability of water management companies are of an infrastructural, technological, and regulatory nature.
The modernization, security, and resilience of infrastructure allows for protecting water resources in every phase of the cycle. The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) can contribute to increasing investments and improving infrastructure. However, it allocates only 3.5 billion euros for the security of procurement and the sustainable and efficient management of water resources along the entire cycle, against a need estimated by Utilitalia of 14 billion euros.
Technology is an enabling factor for sustainability because it allows for protecting water resources with telecontrol, dematerializing many activities, improving administrative processes to the benefit of the user, and redesigning the work organization, which is less anchored to a physical location, and able to increase the productivity and wellbeing of workers by bringing efficiency to mobility and spaces.
Finally, the Regulatory Authority for Energy Networks and Environment (ARERA), with the current measures, has correctly identified sustainability as a fundamental guiding principle of its regulatory action. However, the set of tools and criteria already adopted in relation to those aims can be expanded and strengthened, also in light of the EU taxonomy for sustainable investments, in order to improve their impact and efficacy through, for example, the following interventions:
- definition of specific environmental policy goals and incentives which guide the 2020-2023-MTI-3 water tariff method (recovery of energy efficiency, reutilization of water, reduction of plastic) that impact Capex indicators, in order to favor investments, and integrate the technical quality of a vision of concrete pursuit of sustainable development;
- rethinking of the technical quality of the service (RQTI) with a convinced and fully sustainable approach that considers, in the concrete aspects of the single management services, the balancing of the (monetary and non-monetary) costs and benefits linked to the trajectories of improvement, detaching it from a logic exclusively of performance, as appears today;
- reassessment of contractual quality (RQSII) that, from a sustainability standpoint, pushes more towards the digitalization of the customer experience, which is also foreseen at the regulatory level by the Digital Administration Code.
ACEA ATO 2 S.p.A. is the operating company of the ACEA Group, that manages the integrated water service in Optimal Territorial Area 2 of the Latium Region.
At ACEA ATO 2, sustainability is an intrinsic system of values of the company's core business that permeates all of the industrial processes. It is achieved through the safeguarding of water resources and the environment, combined with the needs of economic and social wellbeing of all of the stakeholders from a long-term perspective. Infrastructure investments, new technologies, and circular economy processes are the catalyzers of sustainable development pursued by the company. The company has developed a 2020-2024 sustainability plan that foresees 723.5 million euros of investments associated with six sustainable development goals indicated by the United Nations aimed at upgrading the service and improving listening to users.
The organizational effort and greater investments have already allowed the company to reduce annual water losses, bringing them to 29% in the city of Rome in 2020, versus a national average of 42%.
In particular, to reach these results the company established a business unit with the function of planning and monitoring water flow, and strategies were implemented for the protection of the resource, such as:
- division into districts of the water network managed;
- verification and calibration of meters installed on large sources of procurement and installation of flow meters on all of the "minor" procurement sources and in purification plants;
- implementation of the Water Management System (WMS), that is, a multi-channel solution able to represent, analyze, monitor, and report on enormous quantities of data and information coming from multiple information systems;
- installation of new meters allowing for remote reading, with the prospect of reaching smart water meters for remote management of the service.
Sustainability at ACEA ATO 2 also regards the use of water. In fact, the company has almost concluded the implementation of the Water Safety Plan (WSP) for all aqueduct systems, in compliance with Directive EU 2015/1787.
On the purification front, a plan has been defined for centralization of the plants, aimed at rationalizing the service, having greater control over the efficacy of purification, and optimization of operating and energy costs.
Moreover, strong attention is given to circular economy processes with projects for energy exploitation of sewage sludge and production of biomethane exploiting the biogas coming from anaerobic digestion of the sludge of most of the purification plans managed.
Technology and digitalization have allowed for reaching high levels of performance in the management of infrastructure and in relations with users. IoT sensors on the network allow for managing aqueducts remotely. In addition, in order to generate value for the users, the digital counter has been introduced, a service that makes it possible to carry out from home all of the operations usually done at physical service counters, without moving and without waiting in line, but also without missing out on contact with an operator.
Claudio Cosentino is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of ACEA ATO2 S.p.A. – Rome.
Adelina di Pietro is the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of ACEA ATO2 S.p.A. – Rome.
 "Acqua, all’Italia servono investimenti da 14 mld di euro ma nel Pnrr ce n’è solo un quarto", Utilitalia, June 17, 2021.