Rethinking the water sector
Energy needs water, and water needs energy
The mutual dependence of energy and water and increasing global demand for each has an enormous impact on economic growth, environmental sustainability and our future in general.
Yet digitalization and existing technologies designed to create an energy-neutral water sector are already available. A more energy efficient water distribution system automatically helps reduce water leakage. Less energy is used. Less water is wasted.
Solving the future energy challenges of the water sector, today
- According to World Economic Outlook, “water crisis” is ranked the fifth most serious risk the world faces over the next 10 years.
- It is estimated that in 2025, one third of the world’s population will live in water stress and scarcity areas.
- In about half of all EU member states, more than 20% of clean drinking water is lost due to leakages.
- 4% of global electricity is consumed by the water industry. This figure is expected to double by 2040.
- At the EU level, the water sector accounts for 3.5% of total electricity consumption.
- Water and wastewater facilities are a municipality’s largest consumer of electricity, representing 30-50% of local authorities’ total electricity bill.
Decoupling the water sector from energy use
The International Energy Agency report – World Energy Outlook – explores the water-energy nexus, not only highlighting the challenges we’re facing but also the potential of achieving an energy-neutral water sector.
Existing technologies designed to reduce energy consumption in all stages of the water cycle – from production and distribution to wastewater pumping and treatment – already exist. Denmark is expected to achieve this goal within a few years. Not only can the water cycle be made more efficient, it has the potential to actually generate energy. And as part of optimizing the energy consumption in the water distribution system, water leakage will be automatically reduced.
A game-changer approach
Turning a city’s largest energy consumer into an energy producer
The Marselisborg catchment area in Aarhus (second municipality in Denmark) has achieved 100% energy surplus production by minimizing consumption throughout the whole water cycle and maximizing energy production from the wastewater facility. This has been achieved without adding external carbon to the wastewater facility or using any other external energy source.
A win-win solution
Apart from tackling the water scarcity problem by reducing water loss, an energy-neutral water sector also contributes to reducing CO2 emissions and brings significant savings in the OPEX and CAPEX of utility companies.
Read more about applications and solutions for Water and Wastewater
How Europe can make its water sector energy neutral?
The new EU Drinking Water Directive could be the tool to reduce water loss, cut energy consumption and deliver better quality of water.
It is time to accelerate investments into more sustainable drinking water management to significantly reduce water leakage and energy consumption.
Key measures for making it happen:
- Enhance awareness on energy performance and leakage rates across the whole water supply chain, from raw water extraction to tap delivery.
- Introduce a new labelling scheme for the energy performance of water suppliers.
- New business models such as energy performance contracting (energy service companies (ESCOs)/ third party financing) are ready for investments. The EU Drinking Water Directive must overcome market failures (e.g. lack of awareness and transparency).
- The Directive should grant that information on water losses and energy use, including costs, is passed on to consumers on regular basis without having to request it.
- The largest number of population supplied with water should receive such information.
- Member states need to evaluate the risk of infiltration of hazardous substances or microbes through leaky pipes.
- Adopting a national leakage rate target of 10% will accelerate investments.
- National data on energy use and water supplier losses need to be gathered on a regular basis.
- Member states and the Commission must track progress and compare the state of energy performance and water sector leakage rates.
- This information should be published in user-friendly overviews.
- The Directive is important in ensuring a coherent supply because drinking water and wastewater are inextricably linked. This connection to circular economic thinking should particularly be emphasized.