The Smart Water programme takes as its point of focus the water-energy nexus. While the two sectors are merging, developing sustainable solutions for optimizing the water – energy linkages will require technological innovation and close cooperation between the water and energy sectors, explains Ger Bergkamp, Executive Director, International Water Association.
He expands further, “The water – energy linkages are at the heart of creating the green economy of tomorrow. Investments in and benefits from good water management can be a driver for a green economy.”
However, to realise this promise, it is necessary to improve the connection with those who are outside the water sector and to innovate faster, Bergkamp explains.
A more efficient and carbon neutral water sector
The water sector also needs to become more efficient and more carbon neutral. Water management accounts for between 5% and 10% of all carbon emission globally. Working towards a water sector that is energy – neutral, can save financial resources that can be used for other investments.
Increasingly, there is great interest within the water sector for investing in energy efficiency and alternative energy production within the urban water and wastewater cycles. New energy efficient pumps or aerations systems can repay the investment in as little as five years. These types of investments can reduce operating costs by between 20% and 50%.
Through the International Water Association Water, Energy and Climate Programme, a new framework for energy efficiency of water and wastewater utilities has been developed. This framework makes progress towards establishing energy efficiency benchmarks and will assist utility managers to better compare their performance and to assess the feasibility and affordability of becoming more energy efficient.
On the energy side, the International Water Association has begun to connect with energy-producing companies and stakeholders that rely on water for their day-to-day business and long-term strategy; including hydro-power, the oil and mining industry and wholesale electricity providers.
Says Bergkamp, “The ‘water for energy’ discourse is complex, however, it is perceived by leaders in the energy sector as a critical risk factor that needs to be addressed.”
According to Bergkamp, many actors ‘outside’ the water sector are paying more attention to the risks associated with neglecting the role of water. He says, “For water professionals, this creates a responsibility to show what difference good water management can provide. We all have to get better at talking about water solutions to a much wider group of stakeholders, translating our technical knowledge and know-how to inform opinion leaders, civil society actors, customers and decision makers alike.”
Focus beyond the Association’s boundaries
A recent International Water Association survey, completed by over 800 members, shows that members want the Association to operate both within and beyond the water sector with the aim of improving water management. Members want the Association to take a more pro-active role in informing policy and opinions, focusing on sharing information within the Association, international forums, high level meetings, and helping to shape water and related policy development.
The survey also reveals that members want the Association to prioritise a number of areas such as access to safe water supplies and sanitation, resource scarcity and depletion, the water-food-energy nexus and resource recovery from water and wastewater.
Beyond the water supply and sanitation sector (ie utilities, cities and health) members want to see the Association more engaged with the environment, agriculture and energy sectors.
Bergkamp says the results of the survey will further guide the development and implementation of the International Water Association Strategy 2014 – 2018. A focus beyond the Association’s ‘boundaries’ already features prominently in the draft of the Association’s Strategy, its programmes and approach to working with partner organizations beyond the water sector.
Bergkamp says that he is looking forward to seeing the interaction amongst water and energy professionals at the European Utility Week. “This will be particularly satisfying given the strategic focus IWA is putting on this topic. It’s also a real learning opportunity for IWA and water professionals to see how the energy sector is innovating in smart network management and customer relations, for example, and how it is applying ICT tools and metering strategies at a scale that is bringing real benefits to customers and overall utility operations.”