Water and Energy Entwined

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Increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewables can directly improve water resource management, thereby also impacting positively on food security

James Smith |14 Nov 11

We don’t often think about the connections between energy and water, but in modern society they are inextricably linked.

Ensuring water supplies for industrial and domestic use requires a lot of energy. The link becomes particularly crucial in areas where one or both are in short supply, for instance in a country like Lesotho, which generates the majority of its electricity from hydropower and relies on electricity imports from South Africa to meet a sizeable deficit. Demand for electricity in Lesotho continues to outstrip supply - something which is only predicted to further increase in coming years.

Water utility industries offer great scope for improvement in efficiency, because many elements of the value chain such as pumps and other equipment are often ageing, and because there is a lack of end-user awareness about efficient water use. REEEP has contributed to the funding of a project in Lesotho in which Econoler is working with the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) to look at both the demand and supply side of the equation: reducing consumers’ water use, and technical measures to reduce energy use in pumping drinking water and processing waste.

An initial analysis showed many barriers to improving energy efficiency in water treatment plants and reducing water consumption at end user level. Consumers lack awareness of the issue – we don’t often think about it, right? – but even if aware they also lack motivation. The pricing of water means it is a very small proportion of the average household’s costs, so there is little incentive to save it. As an aside, the same is often true for energy saving in developed countries – is that A*** fridge/freezer really an attractive purchase if it costs twice as much as an A*? It only uses a fraction of the electricity, but we are sold that electricity so cheaply that the payback time can sometimes be measured in decades.

Similar cost effectiveness concerns and technical barriers exist at the utility level. WASA officials were initially sceptical that energy efficiency measures would produce a sufficient return on investment. The barrier analysis also uncovered a lack of in-house expertise on energy efficiency issues.

To address these barriers the project coordinators have developed an energy efficiency management plan to generate energy savings in WASA facilities. The plan is being implemented through pilot projects installing more efficient technology and Measurement & Verification systems to demonstrate cost effectiveness, and training for WASA staff. They also intend to scale-up the project through energy performance contracting, developing a tender for Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) – one which develops, installs, and arranges financing for projects designed to improve the energy efficiency and maintenance costs for facilities - to encourage further investment, and have designed a water efficiency awareness-raising campaign for end users.

That project looks at the nexus on a utility scale. There are other hopeful signs to the way forward, where water and energy use are considered together at a smaller scale. This year REEEP has agreed to fund a project using a solar steam pumpset for the irrigation of crops in Ethiopia.
Today in sub-Saharan African, small-scale farmers who need irrigation source their water through labour intensive methods such as buckets or manual pumps, or with pumps driven by expensive fossil fuels. Based on the needs of smallholder farmers, iDE, a non-profit organisation helping poor rural households, and PRACTICA Foundation have designed a prototype low-cost solar-steam pump suitable for micro-irrigation. In field testing, the pump has shown consistent output exceeding the design goal of lifting 2,000 litres/day from a depth of 15 metres. It is now being refined to improve its reliability, affordability, versatility, simplicity and ease of manufacture.

To facilitate its widespread adoption, it will be necessary to overcome farmer scepticism about renewable energy based solutions, demonstrate the solar-steam irrigation pump in real conditions, and develop an efficient and sustainable supply chain for the technology. If successful, the project will allow small-scale farmers in Ethiopia to purchase the solar-steam pump at a reasonable price, enabling them to access irrigation water in a low-cost, labour-saving and sustainable manner.

Another pilot project in Indonesia, where wastewater from the tofu industry which is not completely treated and otherwise a pollutant, is being used for biogas production to substitute fossil fuel consumption by the industry and to provide power to the local community. REEEP has agreed to fund work by the Environment Technology Center at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) to encourage widespread take-up amongst the 84,000 small and medium sized enterprises that comprise the country’s tofu industry, looking at policies and financing options.

We need food, for which we need water, for which we need energy. These projects demonstrate that by looking in the first instance to energy efficiency and renewable energy we can contribute to more effective and efficient use of water, in turn impacting on food production. Only by looking at the interlinkages will we find security and sustainability in all three.

This insight was originally posted on The Nexus platform. To read the original insight, click here.