The Many Benefits of Decentralization

Jun 30, 2022
 by Seven Seas News Team

Decentralization takes advantage of newer, modular water and wastewater equipment, making changes, maintenance, and upgrades easier.

A local water or wastewater treatment system reduces risk, saves time and money, and enables the flexibility to build anywhere

Centralization, the dominant model for water and wastewater treatment, is known for large-scale treatment plants connected to users by extensive distribution networks. Decentralization does the job with smaller plants without limitations to location. Although the centralized model can lower costs through economies of scale, the decentralized model lowers costs while avoiding many of the shortcomings of centralization.

Easier on the Budget

Decentralization can lower costs by using newer, modular equipment and updated treatment processes, and plants scaled to need are more energy efficient. But perhaps the most important savings is related to pipe costs.

Pipelines typically accounts for more than half of capital expenditures on a project, and specialized pipe is more expensive to manufacture and install. Other challenges include difficult terrain and sensitive cultural or ecological areas around which pipelines must be routed.

As pipelines grow, so do operating expenses. Pumping stations must be constructed, powered, and maintained. As pipelines age, they begin to leak and require repair or replacement, which can be expensive.

In short, the less pipe the better. Decentralization means placing smaller plants right where they are needed, so long pipelines and their limitations are avoided.

Recycling Locally

Along with pipe cost savings is the potential for local water reuse. Reuse is crucial to increasing the available water in many regions. With a distant central plant, the only way to reuse wastewater locally is to construct an expensive return pipeline, making the venture costly.

Decentralized treatment manages the water where it is needed without a long round trip.

Simpler Negotiations

Centralized projects are notorious for political difficulty, with competing interests and pipelines crossing jurisdictions. Many never get built. The Poseidon desalination plant in Orange County, California, was 25 years in the making but eventually was scrapped, wasting investments in time, planning, studies, and negotiation.

In contrast, decentralization keeps the scale local and the pool of interests smaller, simplifying the process. Seven Seas Water Group streamlines infrastructure delivery even further by keeping planning and engineering in-house, including financing through the strength of Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners.

More Flexibility

With traditional centralized projects, the planning stage is vital because once it’s built, a plant is harder to scale up or down.

Decentralization takes advantage of newer, modular equipment, making changes easier. Seven Seas offers phased installation, so treatment capacity can closely follow demand.

Additionally, developers gain more flexibility when they are not limited by distance and cost to tie into central utility infrastructures. Decentralized systems eliminate the restriction to build based on proximity to the city.

Increased Resiliency

The failure of central facilities can be catastrophic for an entire region. But if a single decentralized plant is damaged in a hurricane or otherwise needs repair, the inconvenience is limited to that unit.

Flexible Financing Options

While the cost of large, regional projects can be staggering, smaller decentralized projects allow infrastructure where it once was not feasible. While decentralized water infrastructure is still costly, it can now be delivered to a much wider market with financing structures including performance-based public-private partnerships, build-own-operate, and build-own-operate-transfer.

Seven Seas’ all-inclusive Water-as-a-Service® offers smart use of capital, allows clients to reduce risk, and provides long-term O&M while clients pay only for the water services they use. Contact our water professionals to discuss how flexible financing and decentralization can work for your service area.