The actual mathematical models describing global climate closely link the detected increase in global temperature to anthropogenic activity. The only energy source we can rely on in a long perspective is solar irradiation which is in the order of 10,000 kW/inhabitant. The actual primary power consumption (mainly based on fossil resources) in the developed countries is in the range of 5 to 10 kW/inhabitant. The total power contained in our nutrition is in the range of 0.11 kW/inhabitant. The organic pollution of domestic waste water corresponds to ∼0.018 kW/inhabitant. The nutrients contained in the waste water can also be converted into energy equivalents replacing market fertiliser production. This energy equivalent is in the range of 0.009 kW/inhabitant. Hence waste water will never be a relevant source of energy as long as our primary energy consumption is in the range of several kW/inhabitant. The annual mean primary power demand of conventional municipal waste water treatment with nutrient removal is in the range of 0.003–0.015 kW/inhabitant. In principle it is already possible to reduce this value for external energy supply to zero. Such plants should be connected to an electrical grid in order to keep investment costs low. Peak energy demand will be supported from the grid and surplus electric energy from the plant can be is fed to the grid. Zero ‘carbon footprint’ will not be affected by this solution. Energy minimisation must never negatively affect treatment efficiency because water quality conservation is more important for sustainable development than the possible reduction in energy demand. This argument is strongly supported by economical considerations as the fixed costs for waste water infrastructure are dominant.
Keywords: energy requirement, wastewater treatment