The Triangle of Sustainability.
Water, Food and Energy are essential to life on earth, and their availability is critical to our survival. However, with the global average temperature projected to increase, the UN projects a 20 percent drop in renewable water resources for every 1°C (1.8°F) increase in addition to more than half the world population living in water stress already. It’s also expected that the global water demand will increase by 30%, global food demand will double and global energy needs to increase by 50% by 2050. These projections have significant implications for economic, health, and social growth, particularly in eliminating hunger and ensuring good health and well-being. Since water underpins food and energy production, it is essential to adopt smart water management practices to ensure sustainable water use.
Interestingly, 72% of all water withdrawals are used by agriculture, 16% by municipalities for households and services, and 12% by industries. This highlights the need to adopt sustainable water management practices in these sectors to increase water availability and access while minimizing the carbon footprint.
One way to increase water availability and access is through desalination technologies that convert brackish water or seawater into freshwater. However, these technologies have a high energy demand, with a carbon footprint of about 1.5KG of Carbon for every 1 m3 of water, and the by-product brine has significant environmental impacts. Therefore, the focus should be on improving water distribution, efficiency in water use, and investing in technology to reduce sourcing, recycling, and reuse of water.
The less talked about but effective solution to global water scarcity actually lies in its distribution, efficiency in its use and ability to invest in technology to lower costs on sourcing, recycling and reuse of water.
The Food-Energy-Water triangle
Food and energy production are both highly water intensive. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources, and more than one-quarter of the energy used globally is expended on food production and supply. 90% of global power generation is water-intensive, such as its use in coal-fired power plants and in nuclear reactors, and in bio-fuel crop production. This are all essential to our survival. knowing that Water, Food, Energy are the most essential to humans should drive us to seek innovation within their nexus.
Prioritizing integrated management of water-food-energy.
Therefore, improving efficiency in the use of water in food and energy production will enable the supply to meet urbanization water needs and industrial needs. Integrated management of water-food-energy is crucial to achieving sustainability in these sectors. This requires developing and investing in micro-water grids to increase energy efficiency and reduce pumping costs for pipeline transfers from water-rich areas. There is also a need for improved and multipurpose storage reservoirs and advanced regional water grids via transfer aqueducts and pipelines with maximum reductions in water mains leakages.
Smart demand management: This is another critical component of sustainable water management. Water demand management is highly linked with the ability to monitor water use in near real-time using digital virtual water networks powered by Internet of Things (IoT) and adjusting the supply while allowing constant visibility to the consumers to adjust usage hence demand. This creates a self-regulating, data-driven approach to behavioral change and smart tariff management. Water-saving devices such as toilets, showers, and baths; water meters; water-efficient domestic appliances; rainwater collection systems; grey-water recycling (i.e., water from showers, baths, and sinks used for toilet flushing) also contribute significantly to water demand management.
Efficient use and reuse of naturally occurring freshwater and investment in monitoring and replenishing groundwater and controlled river abstractions are also essential to achieving sustainable water management.
Fortunately, technological advancements in water management have made significant strides towards sustainable water management. For example, HydroIQ has developed real-time water monitoring and consumption data platform, providing a digital twin of the water network that can achieve an average water saving of 10 – 15% per household. This water efficiency saving could be further increased with the introduction of “smart” metering and structured tariffs for managing regional and seasonal tariffs. With existing high-efficiency technologies like “smart” pumps, leak detection sensors, and other digitally-powered solutions, the amount of energy used in the treatment and transport of water can be dramatically reduced.
In conclusion, smart water management practices are essential to achieving a sustainable water-food-energy balance for the globe. This involves improving water distribution, efficiency in water use, and investing in technology to optimize sourcing, recycling, and reuse of water. Sustainable water management practices in agriculture, municipalities, and industries are also essential. Furthermore, smart demand management options and efficient use and reuse of naturally occurring freshwater are critical components of a sustainable net zero future.