a greenfutures Special Edition
WATER WORKS Green solutions for a blue planet
Green Futures October 2012
“We urgently require new ideas”
Green Futures October 2012
the moment at least) plentiful and, in an increasing number of instances, are acquiring land in developing countries to grow the food that they cannot grow for themselves. Saudi Arabia has recognised that growing wheat in the desert with precious fresh water makes no sense, even if paid for by petro dollars. The world’s burgeoning cities are already struggling to provide water (and importantly sanitation) to the hundreds of millions who need it now, let alone the 2.5 billion extra who will join them in the next 40 years. The answer? Efficiency and technology will play a vital role in enabling us to make the best use of this precious resource. Leakage wastes vast quantities of water from distribution systems around the world. However, it will require people and policy makers to really understand why this matters, and for that awareness to lead to a combination of regulation, realistic pricing and reduced consumption. Water has not yet proved the spark that Seralgeldin thought it might. But the well-documented linkages between food, water, energy, economic growth and human wellbeing suggest that there is little reason to relax. Will Day chairs the non-profit partnership Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor and is Sustainability Advisor to PwC (UK).
The challenges facing the water sector around the world are immense. Rapidly increasing populations and economic development in emerging markets mean an ever increasing demand for water, while ageing infrastructures, rising energy costs and climate change are having an impact on water utilities worldwide. We urgently require new ideas and new ways of doing things. However, in many countries, incentives for innovation are weak and water utilities are slow to adopt new technology. Supplying water is a monopoly, so water utilities are either state owned or operate in a regulatory framework. It is therefore governments, and the regulatory incentives that they put in place, that drive innovation – or the lack of it. The fastest uptake of water-saving technology occurs in countries where some of the right incentives for innovation are already in place. For instance, i2O’s Advanced Pressure Management solution has been most rapidly implemented in countries where water is given an economic value. In Malaysia, the largest water provider, SYABAS, is now saving 40 million litres per day, thanks to our technology. It was very easy for SYABAS to calculate the payback of investing in i2O as they buy their water for approximately £0.15/m3, which reflects the real economic value of the water. If
Photo: i2O Water
In 1995, Ismail Seralgedin, then Senior Vice President at the World Bank, suggested that “many of the wars this century were about oil, but those of the next century will be over water”. Has the risk gone away? Or have we just been lucky? What has happened is a growing recognition that water can no longer be taken for granted. Like so many other natural resources, it is now something we need to take care of. However you look at it – from the impact of increasing global demand for food on water availability, to the impact of over-abstraction for agriculture or cities on watersheds and ecosystems – the facts are pretty stark, and are provoking a range of responses. Smart companies, alongside their social and carbon footprints, are analysing their supply chains to identify their dependence on water. It glows bright red on their risk matrices as a current and future threat. Ministries of agriculture are looking nervously at rainfall predictions to see whether their crops will continue to flourish, against the uncertainty of increasing climate volatility and changing rainfall patterns. Nations are looking to source products and materials from parts of the world where rain is (for
Photos: Hemera/thinkstock; Paul Glendell / Alamy
“Little reason to relax”
similar clarity existed for utilities in other countries, water company engineers could quickly evaluate new technology and projects to check whether or not they were viable. If we are to solve the massive challenges faced by the water sector, we need regulation that encourages innovation. We need governments and regulators to give water a real economic value and ensure that the true cost of water is passed on to consumers and customers, with safeguards for the poorest – rather than subsidising it through the tax system and ignoring the environmental costs. This will incentivise solutions that reduce consumption, such as water recycling or the improvement of industrial processes. An additional benefit of giving water an economic value is that its price correlates to its availability, varying significantly from one water resource zone to another. This ensures that incentives are greatest in areas where water is most scarce. If governments have the courage to allow water utilities to pass on the true cost of water to their customers, their appetite for innovation will increase, working with dynamic suppliers and technology providers to develop solutions to the massive problems we face. Adam Kingdon is CEO, i2O Water.
Green Futures October 2012
After the deluge
A right or a privilege? In 2010, the UN declared water to be a human right, and although basic needs only account for 1.5% of water consumption, the issue of how much to charge for water, if at all, is contentious. The approach of a government to water rates, and the latitude it grants suppliers in charging customers, will directly affect the efficiency of consumption and delivery. Adam Kingdon, CEO of i2O Water – a company that provides technology for optimising the pressure in water distribution systems – maintains that free water is not actually in the best interests of consumers.
Green Futures October 2012
True to the logic that people tend to waste what they don’t pay for, Kingdon says that low or absent water rates discourage efficient use and capital investment in infrastructure: “When you give people free water, there’s no incentive to manage it efficiently.” Saudi Arabia – one of the driest nations in the world – offers an extreme example, he says. There, the Government supplies water at virtually no charge: consumers pay less than 0.03 cents per cubic meter. And yet the associated energy and financial costs of desalinating seawater and pumping it through thousands of kilometres of leaking pipes are staggering. New tariffs and pricing structures, such as proposals to impose fees for water used by non-citizens, are a matter of ongoing debate, but the Government has acknowledged that free water is not in the public’s best interests, because it leads to under-investment in infrastructure. Cambodia, by contrast, illustrates how charging water tariffs can improve water access for consumers. The governmentowned Phnom Penh Water Supply Agency was once a decrepit, war-torn system, wherein only 13% of households
were metered and illegal connections were rampant. But under the direction of engineer Ek Sonn Chan, an approach based on charging small fees has not only brought clean water 24 hours a day to the entire city, but lowered costs for the urban poor and improved public health. However fundamental a need, the cost of water is too much for some. In the UK, Wessex Water is the first to introduce social tariffs and flexible payment plans, recognising the financial difficulties of some of their customers. Working with agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau to assess the level of need, it offers lower tariffs for those in extreme financial difficulty, and various plans to help those in water debt get back on track. The business case for this is clear. “The cost of bad debt, which has been increasing, gets spread across the whole customer base”, explains Dan Green of Wessex Water. “By building a better relationship with the people who are genuinely struggling to pay, and helping them to get advice, we actually bring more money in than if we remained inflexible in our payment plans.”
Photos: istockphoto/thinkstock / istockphoto/thinkstock
Last spring when the utility Thames Water launched a campaign to raise awareness of southeast England’s growing water stress, photographers were quick to snap up pictures of buses, emblazoned with ‘We are in drought’, splashing umbrella-toting passers-by. The irony in these images captures a widespread conundrum. Despite the impression of water plenty, the need for conservation and efficiency is greater than ever, as rising demand and climate variability place increasing strain on groundwater reserves. In the UK and around the world, suppliers are trying to bolster customers’ understanding of local water resources with campaigns to make it plain that – while many consider water a human right – its treatment and delivery must be paid for.
Photos: ngram Publishing/thinkstock / istockphoto/thinkstock
When water flows freely from both the clouds and the tap, paying for it can seem unfair. Katherine Rowland asks how the industry can persuade us to value this precious resource.
“Water is a hidden service”, says Michael Deane, Executive Director of the US National Association of Water Companies. “People see rainfall, and ask, why should I pay for water? They don’t realise what they’re paying for is pumping, pipes and infrastructure, and that capital is necessary for preserving future resources.” Despite the low-level of public knowledge, Deane maintains that communicating the environmental and public health importance of clean water increases customers’ willingness to use resources more efficiently and pay higher rates. Thames Water is doing just that. In partnership with WWF-UK, the local council and the not-for-profit efficiency consultants Waterwise, the utility is taking steps to reduce Swindon’s water use – which, at 164 litres per person per day, is well above the UK Government’s target of 130 litres. The project, which won the Environment Agency Chairman’s Award at the 2012 UK Water Efficiency Awards, includes distributing free home water-saving devices, as well as educational outreach to establish explicit connections between the tap and the region’s valued rivers. It has reduced Swindon’s overall water use by 560,000 litres per day. A drought campaign by Thames Water delivered encouraging results. In its first week, over 20,000 people visited its ‘Waterwisely’ website – 15 times more than usual – and during May’s hot spell its customers’ water use went down by 100 million litres. Crucially, independent research revealed that, thanks to the campaign, just under 90% of customers understood that there was a water
Water and Islam In the Middle East – a region of natural fresh water scarcity and high population growth – authorities have increasingly come to focus on how culture and religious values affect public perceptions of resource use. As Naser Faruqui, Director of Science and Innovation at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa and lead author of the 2001 book, Islam and Water Management, explains, Islam developed in typically arid regions, and so conservation values are deeply engrained in its teachings. “The Qu’ran is explicit about water conservation and management”, says Faruqui. “It says that there is a fixed amount in the world and discourages wasteful use.” Murad Bino, Executive Director of the Inter-Islamic Network of Water Resources and Management, sees Islam as a “strong instrument for social change”. For more than a decade, the Network, which operates in 17 Muslim countries, has been working with thousands of rural households in Jordan to promote greywater recycling for irrigation, linking conservation to Qu’ranic beliefs. The programme draws on the co-operation
Seattle: using less water despite a growing population
of religious leaders to demonstrate water recapture from ablutions in mosques, rallying participants to the idea that water is a divine gift, and that, in the context of scarcity, no one is entitled to excessive amounts at another’s expense. Utilities in Syria have similarly relied on posters expressing, “Water is a gift from God, save it.” In the Palestinian Territories, against a backdrop of ongoing conflict over access to water and deteriorating resources, conservation efforts have straddled appeals
to human rights and Islamic faith. The initiatives of the non-profit Palestinian Hydrology Group have included the creation of community rainwater catchments and conservation education, with a special focus on women who typically provide for and manage domestic use. Their programmes stress the importance of conservation for the security of Palestine’s future, and past sticker campaigns have emphasized that efficient water use is “wajib dini”, or a “religious duty”.
Green Futures October 2012
shortage despite record spring rainfall, and 72% understood why. More crucially, 89% said they would either continue to use as little water as possible or would continue to use less than they did before the drought. Anglian Water’s area of operations includes some of the driest parts of England. It also has one of the country’s fastest growing populations, so it is particularly important for businesses operating in the region to save water. Bob Wilson, Director, Anglian Water Business explains: “We urge our business customers to develop a water strategy which takes into account all the financial and environmental costs of using water, including associated energy use and carbon emissions.” They are offered a range of services, including assistance in finding and fixing leaks. Through its Love Every Drop campaign, the utility also helps customers to better understand the value of water. Part of that is finding ways to reduce water waste, with the goal of reducing daily, domestic use by 20 litres per person. Domestic customers are encouraged to install meters and are offered free water-saving devices. As Andy Brown, Anglian’s Head of Sustainability, notes: “The impression of wet weather makes people assume they don’t need to be careful with water use, but once they understand the facts – like how much water is used for a shower or washing their car – they become much more responsive.” For the same reasons, plentiful rainfall in the US Pacific Northwest could hamper efforts to improve water efficiency. However, current consumption rates in Washington State are now as low as they were in 1957, thanks to one of the country’s most effective consumer conservation programmes. The Saving Water Partnership (SWP) for Seattle has reduced overall water usage by a cumulative total of 9.56 million gallons per day from 2000 to 2010,
In April of this year, the Australian Government announced the end of its decade-long drought. And while the Big Dry may be over, it’s likely to leave a lasting mark on public commitments to water efficiency. During the drought, national and state governments launched a suite of initiatives to promote long-term improvements in water efficiency, and accelerate the uptake of water-saving technologies and practices. Australia is one of the world’s biggest consumers of water: prior to the drought Australians were using an average of more than 300 litres per day. But with rising rates, restrictions on outdoor use, widespread adoption of water-saving devices, and campaigns to modify behaviour, average use has dropped by more than one-third. In southeast Queensland, local government and utilities worked together to reduce water use among 80,000 “high volume” households – those using 800 or more litres per person per day. They conducted behavioural surveys and worked one-on-one to find ways to make savings, such as installing rain capture bins and switching to low-irrigation lawn covers. After the programme, 45% of households were deemed efficient, with daily usage reduced to 145 litres per person. The Water Corporation of Western Australia’s H2ome scheme enlisted households in a 12-month programme involving personal coaching on efficient use and regular meter readings to keep households on track, and successfully lowered usage by 17-19%. “Australia has gone beyond behaviour change,” says Andrew Tucker, who before becoming the Water Strategy Manager for the UK Energy Saving Trust, served as an environmental advisor in Australia. “There is now a cultural shift in the way people use and view water resources. Having gone through such extreme drought, people aren’t going back to wasteful practices.”
Photos: Comstock/thinkstock / Martin Gabriel/Nature Picture Library
Beyond the Big Dry
despite regional population and economic growth. “The success of our projects is that we don’t just give consumers tips on how to save water: we provide them with a ‘why’ message”, says Al Dietemann, who leads SWP. The agency installs free water-saving hardware, and offers educational messages via print, radio and television, in English and the languages of the large East African and First Nations populations. It also engages local leaders to spread conservation values. “Social marketing is much more effective than having utilities preach change to customers,” adds Dietemann. “We create tailored messages that relate to local cultures and activities in ways that people can understand.” One of the most effective campaigns tied domestic water use to the local watershed, around which much of the area’s recreational and industrial activities revolve. In particular, the watershed is home to one of the largest wild salmon runs in the US, and so the agency used imagery to help customers see how water use could affect the health of the river and its stocks. Seattle authorities are hardly alone in making appeals to local values. In Texas, among other states in the US South, the federally-sponsored 40 Gallon Challenge prompts citizens to “take the pledge to conserve water” for their county and state. In the Middle East, the Jordanian Government and the Palestinian Hydrology Group have framed consumer water saving initiatives in relation to religious emphases on conservation [see box, ‘Water and Islam’, p5]. The European Commission’s Generation Awake campaign caters to a younger, more ecologically savvy cohort, urging citizens to address overconsumption with the aid of 3D animation, videos and social media. This project aims to help consumers understand how water resources are not
bound by national borders, and to encourage a panEuropean ethos of conservation. While scarcity is a global problem, water use and consumer ethics vary widely by region. Campaigns work best when they target local concerns, says Deane. “People don’t want to pay for abstract issues like climate change in their water bill – it’s hard enough to get people to pay for ageing pipes. But they will pay and conserve when they understand how water issues affect their own communities.” For Andrew Tucker of the UK’s Energy Saving Trust, it’s also important to help the people see the connections between water use and energy efficiency. Energy saving, he says, has steadily become part of mainstream culture, and consumers recognise that simple steps, like switching off lights, will be rewarded through lower bills. Water, by contrast, is relatively cheap when compared to other services, and rarely metered (in the UK). Although prices have been steadily increasing, efficiency measures don’t necessarily result in significant cost savings on the water bill. The Trust’s Water Energy Calculator, which has been adopted by several of the nation’s utilities, helps consumers see how energy and water usage go hand in hand. It processes personal variables, such as home and family size, geographic location, and whether the household has a garden and swimming pool, to identify where waste is occurring. It then generates tailored tips for improved efficiency. “None of it is rocket science”, says Tucker. “There are clear measures you can take to reduce use and improve efficiency. The challenge is the broad shift in mindset that makes these actions standard practice.”
Too wet for wheat: the UK is set to be a net importer of the grain this year, following the most summer rainfall in a century
Scarcity is a global problem, but water use and ethics vary widely by region
Katherine Rowland is a journalist specialising in health and environment. She is based in New York.
Green Futures October 2012
Across the world, millions of litres of water are seeping out from supply networks every day before they even reach our taps. Replacing pipes is enormously capital intensive, while digging up the road to fix all of the small leaks which together add up to big losses is costly and disruptive. A cost effective alternative is to optimise the pressure of the water in the pipes, keeping it high enough to meet customer needs, but eliminating the excess, which causes leakage and bursts. Technology from the UK-based company i2O uses sophisticated software and a network of sensors and controllers to do just this. Its novel systems are already saving over 75 million litres of water each day around the world. “Leakage is a worldwide problem”, says Adam Kingdon, the CEO of i2O. “Optimising the pressure in the network seems like a very obvious thing to do. If you manage the pressure correctly, you can reduce both leakage and the number of new bursts as well as reducing operating costs and energy bills.”
Green Futures October 2012
Most major water networks are divided up into District Metered Areas (DMAs), each covering a few thousand homes or buildings. A pressure reducing valve (PRV) is usually installed at the inlet of each DMA. These PRVs are set to a fixed pressure and are currently adjusted manually by technicians visiting site. The problem with this approach is that the pressure required fluctuates with demand, throughout any given day and over the course of a year. As the PRVs are difficult to adjust, they are normally set at the maximum pressure that might ever be needed. This means that for the rest of the time, they are set far too high. The excess pressure increases leakage, which is proportional to pressure. It also causes additional stress in the pipes leading to bursts and reduces the service life of the pipe. Pumping at too high a pressure is also enormously wasteful of energy. This waste can be avoided through the use of i2O’s solution, which is both simple and effective. So, how does it work? The company retrofits each PRV with a
“Using smart systems to actively manage pressure in a water network has huge advantages”, says Jacob Tompkins, Managing Director at Waterwise, an independent UK based non-profit organisation which works to promote water efficiency and conservation. “[This] isn’t just a fit-and-forget approach”, he adds: “It is a tool that can aid in network management, [by providing] the ability to vary pressures in distinct parts of the network in real time.” Ian Randall is a journalist working at CERN.
Smartening up: i2O’s Advanced Pilot Valve
Ian Randall finds out about a sure way to reduce leaks and bursts.
No one wants to take a dip in dirty water, but some public bathing sites can be adversely affected by excessive rainfall, if it causes wastewater to overflow. In a bid to help its customers make safe choices, Wessex Water launched a bathing water notification system in 2011. This uses Google maps and mobile technology to offer the public realtime information on sewer overflow events. The company has installed small batterypowered monitors at 20 coastal and bathing sites which the Environment Agency has identified as vulnerable to discharge.
Photos: istockphoto/thinkstock / Photodisc/thinkstock
patented pilot valve and remote controller. Sensors placed downstream in the pipe network – at the ‘critical point’ where pressure is lowest – gather data on demand, which is transmitted via the mobile phone network, together with data from the PRV controllers, to i2O’s server. Software is then used to set the PRVs automatically and continuously to the optimum pressure, without the need for, and costs of, manual interventions. This way, the whole network can be regulated to ensure not only that customers always receive the pressure that they need, but that the pressure (and therefore the amount of leakage, risk of bursts and cost of pumping) is kept to a minimum. This lowers operating costs, enhances the lifetime of the pipes and reduces the service disruption to customers through lengthy repair jobs. As there is rarely mains electricity at the PRV site, i2O developed an innovative pilot valve, which is retrofitted to the PRVs and uses minimum power, supplied either by a local battery or by a micro-turbine inserted into a bypass pipe. The company’s 2010 installation on Veolia’s network in the UK reduced leakage by approximately 15% (around 2.5 million litres of water a day) – while actually improving customer service levels and eliminating customer low-pressure complaints. In addition, Veolia estimated that, due to a reduction in bursts, operating costs fell by as much as 80%. One of i2O’s most successful installations has been in Malaysia, in partnership with the water services company Jalur Cahaya. Here, 205 systems on the Syabas network save 40 million litres of water a day, or 12% of the total volume. In addition, the rate of new pipe bursts has fallen by 40%. “On [zones] with i2O, once we have fixed a leak, it stays fixed,” says Sheikh Mazlan of Jalur Cahaya.
Safe for a swim?
According to OFWAT, the regulatory body for water and sewage in England and Wales, the amount of UK water lost daily through leaky pipes would be enough to meet the needs of 10 million additional people. Detecting leaks, however, is a difficult process. Traditional methods, which use microphones to listen out for the sounds made by water escaping from a pipe, tend to be time-consuming and inaccurate. The recent trend towards plastic piping, in which sound rapidly attenuates, has not made this easier. A new method, however, has been developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield. This system, which has recently been put into practical application in tests with Yorkshire Water, uses pressure waves to explore pipe networks. A special valve is fitted to standard water hydrants. Opened and closed quickly, this generates a wave of pressure, which travels down the pipe. Whenever the wave meets a change in the network (such as a junction, turn or leak) a reflection is transmitted back up the pipe.
With knowledge of the pipe system, special analytic methods can be used, on the signals received back at the origin point of the wave, to map out the locations of these features. Comparison with previous results, therefore, can reveal the presence and location of any new leaks in the pipes. “The system has delivered some very promising results at Yorkshire Water,” says James Shucksmith, the lecturer in Water Engineering at the University of Sheffield who led the trial of the technology. “We are able to identify the location of leaks much more accurately and rapidly than existing systems are able to, meaning water companies will be able to save both time and money in carrying out repairs.” During the tests, leaks in cast iron pipes were successfully pinpointed to within one metre. Tests of plastic piping proved even more effective, narrowing the search to within 20cm of the leak itself. The researchers are currently searching for an industrial partner, in order to develop the system for wider, commercial use.
Green Futures October 2012
This little piggy For water companies, “the biggest single complaint is discolouration”, says Joe Quarini, a Professor at the University of Bristol. “Someone opens the tap, pours a glass of water, holds the glass up to the light and they can see little specks in it.” This harmless discolouration is caused by little bits of grit and dirt, which can come from the pipe system, and collect in it. Quarini has developed a highly flexible system to clean pipes (used for water and other purposes) which can be employed quickly and efficiently without the need for harsh chemicals or digging up pipework. A plug of partially molten ice – similar in composition to an iced beverage – is placed into the pipe through a hydrant, and pushed along by regular water flow. This plug, known as an “ice pig”, scours the pipes through which it travels. The pig and the unwanted particulate material it collects can then easily be ejected further down the pipe. As the pig is made primarily of water, it leaves no residue behind itself – and, should it get stuck, users merely need to take a quick break and wait for the pig to melt. “Ice Pigging offers our clients an innovative, simple, low risk and highly effective technique for cleaning water distribution mains and pumped sewers”, says David Corke, a director at Aqualogy, the global company which holds the license to use ice pigging in commercial, water based applications.
Previous pigs were made of foam, and required some work to set them off and get them out again. They were also liable to get stuck, or take a wrong turn – none of which is a problem with ice. According to reports from Aqualogy’s clients, ice pigging can remove 20 times as much sediment and biofilm as can flushing, and is as effective as traditional foam pigs, minus their complications. Water pipes are far from the only possible use for ice pigs. In fact, Quarini first envisaged the pig for cleaning pipes in the food processing industry: “The applications are limited only by your imagination,” he says. ‘Beer pigs’, for piping in pubs and breweries, are planned for the near future. Other uses might include distributing biocide within plants, in decommissioning oil rigs, and even cleaning out urinary catheters to reduce the chance of infection.
Green Futures October 2012
Photos: istockphoto/thinkstock / Anglian Water
Technologies are evolving to make wise water use more appealing and – critically – convenient, to homeowners. The most effective will cut waste down the pipe, slim energy bills, and change the way people use water in the long-term. In Australia, new homes are fitted with greywater recycling units, and tax incentives are available in some US states to encourage plumbers to incorporate the technology standard [see ‘How many shades?’, p20]. In the UK, a housing development in Huntingdon uses greywater recycling in conjunction with high efficiency tap fittings, reducing consumption from 145 litres per person per day to just 80. According to Gareth Barker, Growth Planning Manager at Anglian Water, local authorities in the UK are increasingly demanding that new developments achieve high standards within the Code for Sustainable Homes. Greywater recycling units are rated at the highest level (Code 6). Such technologies are largely out of the control
Photos: Aqualogy/Water Efficiency Awards / H2eco/Water Efficiency Awards
Rachel England looks at the schemes and gadgets designed to make us more aware of our daily water use.
of householders, though – and it’s their role in water conservation that stands to have the much-needed results. Thanks to comprehensive campaigns around the globe, many are stepping up. Australia’s annual Savewater! Awards – a scheme to recognise watersaving efforts in homes, businesses and schools, now in its 10th year – has become a highly revered achievement. Saving water is just part of the battle, though: another is encouraging residents to respect the water system on which they depend. One problem is that some use the toilet and sink as general waste disposal units, for anything from kitchen fat to nappies. Wessex Water has launched a free game for the iPhone called ‘Bag it and bin it’, where the user has to dispose of waste objects quickly before they land in the loo – learning what shouldn’t end up in there as they play. For Marcia Davies of Anglian Water, education is one of the most important tools in the box. “Educating people about where water comes from, how it’s cleaned and prepared, how it then re-enters the environment, and the effect that has on the ecosystem – creating the ‘bigger picture’ for them – is key”, she says, “as is making it as simple as possible to save water.” Anglian’s ‘Drop 20’ campaign gives households simple tips to reduce their consumption. One focus is the benefit of water metering. The company’s Water Efficiency Manger, Linda Berkshire, says: “Non-metered customers will look at you with horror at the prospect of having a meter installed because there’s an assumption that it’s more expensive. But actually, we’re finding that households are saving an average of £100 per year by paying for what they actually use, rather than a figure based on their property size. Over 20,000 customers come to us every year, asking for them.” Traditionally, water meters are installed to pipework outside, but Wessex Water is trialling smart meters – which transfer readings from external water pipes to an internal device – to see what difference it makes to water use if householders are able to keep track of their consumption, and its impact on their bills, in real time. These devices will send data to consumers’ phones, PCs and tablet devices to help them to understand the impact of actions like washing up and taking a shower. The trial is part of a wider project, Smart Dorchester, through which Wessex is working with residential customers, local businesses and schools to find the best ways to give them clear information about the price of water, help them to save both water and money, and to understand their own usage. The project will also offer advice to encourage them to change their habits. Specialist gadgets designed to cut water waste are becoming increasingly popular, too. Thames Water provides ‘Leakfrog’ devices which are fitted to a customer’s water meter for between a day and a week, detecting hidden leaks in their pipes. Working like stopwatches, the digital device shows the longest period of time it has taken for one litre of water to pass through the household’s water meter. The shorter the time, the bigger the leak. Over 70,000 properties’ supply pipes have been tested with the device since 2008, and 2,100 have
been found to have large enough leaks to warrant a repair or pipe replacement. Out in the garden, solar-powered irrigation systems are also becoming more popular. They require no mains electricity or water supply, instead sucking water from a butt (or other non-pressurised water source) and then thoroughly watering plants every three hours with the aid of a solar-powered pump. The device even gives the garden an extra helping of water when it’s particularly sunny. The system uses 90% less water than a hose. Thames Water is offering a 15% discount on the kit (which retails at £79.50) to its customers. A range of freebies from water suppliers aims to help customers recognise the cost of water. As part of its Waterwisely campaign, Thames Water handed out shower heads, tap attachments and hippo bags for toilet cisterns to its customers on demand. (The nifty hippos save up to two litres of water per flush, reducing a UK individual’s daily water use by up to 5%.) Between March and August 2012, over 100,000 water-saving products were ordered. Anglian Water’s ‘Bits and Bobs’ scheme offers similar gadgets, and includes a visit from a plumber who will fit the equipment and talk to the customer about other ways to save water. “This conversation is important as it helps to drive behaviour change,” says Berkshire. “We’ve carried out thousands of visits so far and have a target of 87,500 by 2015. The scheme can save over 40 litres per household per day – it’s a significant amount. ” There does appear to be a shift in attitude towards water conservation, says Anglian Water’s Marcia Davies, noting that the recent droughts have brought the issue into the public consciousness. “However, there are people who were in the company back in 1976 [during the UK’s last major drought] and they say there was a similar discussion then… It’s important we keep the momentum of this dialogue going, and that we don’t only talk about water when it’s perceived to be a problem.”
Households save an average of £100 per year by paying for what they actually use
Rachel England is a freelance writer and editor specialising in sustainability.
Green Futures October 2012
1 T he Saving Water Partnership (SWP) for Seattle has reduced overall water usage by a cumulative total of 9.56 million gallons per day from 2000 to 2010 [see ‘After the deluge’, p4].
2 Thames Water’s Old Ford plant recycled water from London’s sewers for the Olympic Park, cutting its demand for tap water by up to 58% [see ‘How many shades?’, p20].
3 In the Jordan Valley, the Palestinian Hydrology Group works with local women to improve access to water for agricultural use [see ‘Water and Islam’, p5].
apart from that of the water itself. Essentially, it works like this: if you have a supply of water flowing downhill (from a spring or a stream, say) you can use the force of its fall to pump some of it uphill, using a simple pump based on the so-called ‘water hammer’ effect. Ram pumps were very popular in the early 19th century, but fell out of favour with the advent of electric versions, which offered greater flexibility. They continued to be used on isolated farms, and have
recently become more popular as a means of bringing water to off-grid communities in developing countries. And as fuel and maintenance costs rise, so the relatively simple ram pumps are beginning to look increasingly economical for the industrialised world, too. But now a British company, Papa Pumps, is reviving ram pumps with a different aim in mind: flood control and large-scale water transfer [see ‘Shifting streams’, p16]. As Director Hugo Swire
Photos: shutterstock; Martin Wright
Many parts of the planet are in ‘water debt’, through a combination of over-abstraction, poor stewardship, and climate change. But across the world, innovative solutions offer hope of water security in the long term.
4 A solar pump drive, manufactured by AMRO Technology in Bangalore, India, can be fitted to most types of existing hand or treadle pumps [see ‘Thirst quenchers’, p14].
5 In Malaysia, the installation of i2O’s Advanced Pressure Management system on the SYABAS network saves 40 millions litres of water a day [see ‘Smarty pipes’, p8].
6 In Perth and elsewhere, Water Corporation’s H2ome scheme has lowered us in households by 7-19% [see ‘Beyond the Big Dry’, p6].
Ask people to name the invention most closely associated with the Montgolfier Brothers, and most would plump for the hot air balloon. But while this may remain the 18th century French pair’s most famous claim to fame, they also developed something which, over time, may prove to be even more celebrated - the ram pump: a device so simple that it strains credibility. It’s able to transfer huge quantities of water uphill without any external power source at all –
Green Futures October 2012
A centuries-old technology could help put water where it’s needed. explains, “We can put a ram pump inside a national park far from an electricity supply, helping prevent flooding by moving water higher up into the catchment area.” Papa Pumps’ largest model is able to shift water up to 50km, raising the prospect of it being used for transferring significant quantities between regions with a water surplus and those suffering from drought. On a smaller scale, Swire even envisages them being used for local
urban flood prevention. “You could install small pumps in the drains beneath a supermarket car park, say.” As well as stopping dangerous levels of run-off during heavy rains, the water could be pumped back up for use in car washes, toilet flushing, or to irrigate green roofs, all at zero energy cost. Not as glamorous as a balloon ride, maybe – but arguably a lot more useful in an increasingly turbulent climate. – Martin Wright
Green Futures October 2012
manufacturer, Verstergaard Frandsen. They say they will recoup the $25 million investment through carbon credits, awarded by ClimateCare’s Climate and Development scheme, and others.
Jon Turney explores the promise of technology – new and old – to improve water supply in dry climates.
Green Futures October 2012
Photo: Michael Macor/Corbis
Electricity from solar panels readily powers pumps or drives distillation, and many combinations of power and mechanism are on trial. One nearing wider use is a solar pump drive, developed in Switzerland and now manufactured by AMRO Technology in Bangalore, India. A brushless motor (originally developed at Bern University in the 1980s for solar-powered car competitions) has been adapted to operate a solarpowered unit which can be fitted to most types of existing hand or treadle pumps. The marriage with existing installations may make them an easier sell, and users have the reassurance they can revert to human power if the solar electricity fails. The latest version of the unit is now being tested in seven countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Ghana and Haiti, with results due in next year. Solar power is also an option for cleansing drinking water. It can be used for direct heating, or converted to electricity and stored for later use. Purification which does not rely on high temperature is also possible, by filtration – which can save money, fuel and carbon emissions. One of the most impressive initiatives is the Lifestraw project (below), which has provided nearly 900,000 households in Western Kenya with a free water filter that removes micro-organisms. Each filter lasts three years, and cleans enough drinking water for a family of five. The project, launched in 2011, includes training for householders and for staff in 31 service centres where faulty filters will be repaired or replaced for ten years. The upfront costs were met by the
Photo: Vestergaard Frandsen
Energy is the key to many efforts to guarantee water supply
Wherever people live, they will get water somehow. The question is how hard they must work to get it, and whether it is good to drink. People in arid regions have found many ingenious ways of securing supplies. Bringing safe water to those without easy supply – perhaps 800 million, mostly living in rural areas – depends, above all, on money. But an array of technologies may improve returns on investment. These need not be new. There is inspiration in ancient systems like the underground tunnels for groundwater irrigation, known as ‘aflaj’, in Oman. They need not be high-tech. The plastic jerrycan has revolutionised water collection and distribution in many developing countries over the last 30 years, helping erode the division of labour that confined water-carrying to women. But they need to be robust, reliable, and tailored to local geography, climate and culture. Energy is the key to many efforts to guarantee water supply. Pumping needs power. In coastal areas, or where groundwater is brackish, desalination is energy intensive. Water supply and sanitation are always linked, and one simple way to make water contaminated with bacteria safe is heating it – often to boiling point. Arid conditions often go with hot climates, so solar power is a good match for many water projects’ energy needs. It is reliable, getting cheaper, and easy to operate in small-scale, local schemes which are widely distributed. Installation costs are higher than for diesel generation, but running costs are lower.
And what about thirsty crops? In areas where rainfall is likely to be adversely affected by climate change, more complex arrays of technology may be needed to ensure crop irrigation can go on. Drip-fed irrigation systems, which target plant roots and save water, are catching on fast. They use less than half as much water as traditional irrigation channels, and save labour while increasing yields. Their original developer, Israeli scientist Dr Daniel Hillel, received the World Food Prize this year, and since he pioneered the method in the 1950s has seen it used on millions of hectares of crops: 2 million in India alone. More recently, simple drip-fed systems have been updated with the latest in sensors and communications to allow more precise adjustments to water delivery. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, some fruit and vegetable farmers are getting used to wireless monitoring and control of automated drip feed systems. A farmer can now check water pressures and flow rates in distant fields from an iPad or phone. Drip irrigation began in the Negev desert in southern Israel, one of the driest regions on the planet. The Negev is also a centre of research into desalination. Making salt water usable for crops, or even for drinking, can be achieved using a range of technologies, but requires a lot of energy, and is therefore expensive. At the moment, desalination is mainly used to furnish drinking water in countries with plenty of energy, and finds some agricultural use in Spain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. New refinements in one of the most-used desalination techniques, reverse osmosis, promise increased efficiency, and may allow much wider use of the method in less developed countries [see ‘Salt content’, GF85, p14]. The physical chemistry of reverse osmosis is complex. Osmosis describes the movement of solvent molecules from water with low particle content towards more dense climes. If the vessels are joined by a semi-permeable membrane, which has pores small enough to block some particles but still allow water molecules through, water passes from the weaker to the stronger solution, moved by osmotic pressure. However, if a strong enough external pressure is applied, it can force water the other way: hence reverse osmosis. The result is pure water on one side of the membrane, and unwanted chemicals concentrated on the other. There have been many experiments with reverse osmosis for small-scale operations in remote, rural areas. One way to improve the process is to achieve finer control of the membrane. This is the key to a system now being tested in Israel’s Arava Valley, an arid region that nevertheless produces fresh vegetables for export. An ‘engineered oasis’, developed by the Ben-Gurion University in the nearby Negev, desalinates the brackish groundwater drawn from aquifers using less energy than conventional systems – thanks to nanofiltration membranes, which can operate at lower pressures.
Test seasons in 2010 and 2011 saw the new desalination plant performing as theory predicted, at a pressure 45% lower than a comparable standard reverse osmosis membrane, and using 40% less energy. Moreover, the water resulting from this purification technique is less brackish, and so can be more easily taken up by crops, which means farmers can reduce their consumption. The trials even showed some increases in yield. The ultimate aim of the project is to prove a system which will be easy to install, maintain and finance on small farms in other countries where there are large areas with no easy access to water or electricity. The nanofiltration option is also good for crops because it does not deliver water completely depleted of ions, such as calcium and magnesium, which are essential for crop growth. As membrane technology develops further, there is the potential bonus of fine-tuning exactly which dissolved chemicals are removed from the water, and which remain. This should allow water content to be modified to suit particular crop plants. Further improvements in membrane performance are supported by lab work on the new material graphene – a layer of carbon only one atom thick [see GF82, p13]. Researchers at MIT have calculated that graphene pores could be between a hundred and a thousand times easier for water to pass through than current membranes, while still retaining dissolved ions. If it works, the latest nanotechnology will offer more answers to humankind’s oldest need. Jon Turney is a science writer, and author of ‘The Rough Guide to the Future’.
Green Futures October 2012
Green Futures October 2012
“The transfer that we developed could be used in the future, if necessary,” says Cook. “It’s important that we be ready for the next drought.” Small-scale water transfers have been occurring for decades in the UK. But as population growth intensifies demand for water, and climate change threatens to disrupt supply, companies are starting to think beyond local, ad hoc transactions. Last spring’s drought left England’s water purveyors contemplating more frequent and formal trading arrangements to ensure their districts never dry up. A nationwide trading network may arrive next year, as the UK Government has mandated that water companies submit a long-term plan for managing the country’s resources by March 2013. While measures for reducing consumption, such as repairing leaky infrastructure, will factor into the plan, water swaps may well be central. “The idea is to identify surplus within the system”, says Luke DeVial, Head of Environment and Resources at Wessex Water, “and then all companies can enter detailed negotiations and consider trading options.” England isn’t alone in pursuing transfers as a path to water security. California has conveyed water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles via aqueduct since 1913. Libya’s Great Manmade River,
Above: California’s Aqueduct
Last April, its reserves depleted by Britain’s worst drought in nearly 40 years, Anglian Water was hoping for rain. Summer lay ahead, and, beyond that, the threat of an unprecedented third dry winter in a row. If that were to happen, it would put a real strain on Anglian’s ability to meet the needs of its customers. The company, which services 27,000km2 in southeast England, had banned the use of hosepipes; but with no rain in sight, cutting usage wasn’t going to bridge the shortfall. There was no way around it: Anglian would need more water to ride out a drought stretching into 2013. To Anglian’s west lies Severn Trent Water, whose district had not been nearly so afflicted. With Severn Trent still flush, and Anglian’s supplies diminishing, the two companies began negotiations on the transfer of water from one region to another. Their proposal would have seen navigation canals and the River Trent used to transfer enough water from Birmingham, in Severn Trent’s area, to the Humber Bank, in Anglian’s, to supply 100,000 homes. Heavy rains arrived before the scheme was enacted, and now, says Mike Cook, Anglian’s Head of Water Resources, the company’s reserves are recharged. But while it won’t have to buy water from its neighbours this year, the negotiations have prepared Anglian for dry spells in years to come.
Photo: Ron Chapple Studios/thinkstock
Large-scale water transfers have had a bad rap for good reason. But faced with shortages, more companies and governments are importing their lifesource – and doing it responsibly, says Ben Goldfarb.
the world’s largest underground network of pipes and ducts, moves 6.5 million cubic meters per day from an ancient aquifer beneath the Sahara Desert – enough water that one of the world’s driest countries aspires to export crops. And even Libya’s system is dwarfed by China’s ongoing South-North Water Diversion Project, channels that would transfer 23 trillion litres a year from the Yangtze and Han Rivers to Beijing and Tianjin. These hubristic undertakings, however, have traditionally led to steep environmental costs. China’s project has relocated hundreds of thousands of people, and the Han River may eventually be bled dry by canals. Diversions to cities in the southwestern US have reduced the Colorado River at its delta to a swampy trickle. Water transfers in Australia’s Snowy Mountains have choked rivers with silt, spreading invasive species and destroying fish populations. Despite this dismaying record, England’s water companies believe they can promote ecological health rather than wreak havoc by using transfers to comply with the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction Programme, an Environment Agency initiative to reserve water for aquatic environments. Wessex Water, for example, agreed to reduce abstraction by seven megalitres from the Chitterne Brook, an unusual chalk stream that hosts juvenile trout. The company plans to compensate for the lost abstraction by linking places in its water-abundant south, like Dorchester and Shaftesbury, to Salisbury and other points further upstream by 2018. Climate change, which portends severe summertime drought and variable rainfall, also motivates companies to pursue transfers. In 2010 United Utilities completed its West East End Link, a 55km-long pipeline that connects Manchester and the Lakes District so that water can move between regions when one goes dry. “The pipeline’s true test will come as climate change kicks in”, says Richard Blackwell, United’s supply and demand manager. “The link will be playing an important role in 100 years.” Moving water between regions, however, is not without difficulty. Even plans that use existing canals require new infrastructure – pumping stations to lift water over locks, and new treatment facilities to process increased volume – which could impede costeffectiveness. Companies may be able to defray these energy expenses by diverting their water through hydropower installations. According to Roger Falconer, Professor of Water Management at Cardiff University, England should look beyond its own borders to alleviate scarcity. Citing a 2010 report by engineer John Lawson, Falconer advocates flowing water from the River Severn to the Thames and enlarging Wales’ Craig Goch Reservoir in order to import water via the River Wye. “In principle, we could enact this plan right now, using existing rivers and canals,” says Falconer. And while some Welsh environmental groups object to the export of their water, other people see it as a path to prosperity. John Jones, a former executive at Welsh Water, told the BBC last April that Wales’ best use of their abundant H2O might be to treat it like oil –– and sell it, at a tidy profit, to their English neighbours. If the UK needs a guide to the promise and peril of international agreements, it should look to Southeast Asia. Singapore, which has few water resources of its own, has long relied on Malaysia for its water,
currently drawing nearly 40% of supply from its neighbour and paying about1% (US$) for the privilege. Yet while Singapore benefits from access to cheap Malaysian water, its dependency is also a weakness that Malaysia exploits for political leverage. To escape Malaysia’s influence, Singapore has committed to weaning itself off foreign water, opening wastewater and desalination plants to ensure domestic supply. Singapore isn’t alone: even as some companies and countries employ water transfers to mitigate against shortages, others focus on conserving water within their own districts. Methods to capture stormwater, such as Aquifer Storage and Recovery, are gaining primacy across the world, and greywater recycling will soon be standard practice in dry regions. And that’s just the supply side. England’s water companies are adamant that demand-side measures will be integral pieces in the country’s forthcoming water plan. Yet in a world increasingly dominated by climate change, they still see transfers as vital insurance, a means of staying flexible and resilient when rains vanish. “We can push and push on the demand side to reduce leakage and consumption”, says Anglian’s Cook. “But climate change will make it harder to recharge groundwater, and we’re going to need to pursue some bigger interconnections.” Ben Goldfarb is a Master’s student at Yale University and the editor of Sage Magazine.
Virtual water Pipelines might grab the headlines, but the world’s groceries host far vaster transfers each day. Every product, from bananas to beer, requires a certain quantity of water to create: its ‘water footprint’. When you eat a steak that was raised in Texas, you’re effectively drinking 15,000 litres of the ‘virtual water’ that went into growing the cow – water that the drought-stricken state may not be able to spare. Now governments are starting to take notice of virtual water flows. “Countries that have traditionally exported goods are realising the need to keep their water at home”, says Arjen Hoekstra, co-founder of the Water Footprint Network. Saudi Arabia has announced plans to halt the export of vegetables grown in open spaces over the next five years to conserve water; Israel discourages the export of thirsty crops like oranges, and Spain is using water footprint analyses to manage industries in its river basins. Wet countries are embracing virtual water for a different reason. “South America has the largest virtual water resources”, says Hoekstra. “Exporters there can’t compete from a carbon footprint perspective, but from the standpoint of water footprint, they’re sustainable.” Hoekstra advocates labeling products with their water footprint to help consumers make savvier choices. While Hoekstra acknowledges that sometimes carbon and water footprints can clash – for example, growing biofuels may help reduce carbon emissions, but also uses a lot of water – he doesn’t think the conflict is irreconcilable. “Wasteful societies use too much of everything,” he says. “More efficient trade leads to smarter use of both water and carbon.”
Green Futures October 2012
Cash flow Innovative start-up companies are helping to stem the tide of water leakage and make waste pay. But where is the funding coming from and who stands to profit? Bob Cervi investigates.
Green Futures October 2012
than £246 million of funding for water technology companies over the past five years. Why this upsurge? For a start, investors recognise that, all over the world, water is becoming a scarce resource. At the same time, there is growing publicity surrounding waste from leaking pipes, prompting consumers to question why they should restrict their use, and shifting the spotlight to inadequate infrastructure. Helge Daebel of Switzerland-based Emerald Technology Ventures, a VC that invests in water-industry start-ups, also remarks that more start-ups are coming forward now than when he started taking an interest in water around six years ago. He believes this growth has been largely driven by the availability of know-how and talent from other industries, such as IT. Software developers have realised that automated control systems that can be applied to water networks and make even leaky pipelines more efficient. Many specialist software solutions for managing water networks are spin-offs from IT companies or university research departments. One successful start-up, TaKaDu, was set up by experts in the
In a world where water is becoming increasingly scarce, venture capital (VC) investors are beginning to sit up and take notice. They are putting their money into technologies that promise to increase the efficiency of water services, thereby cutting costs, reducing energy consumption and offering potentially strong returns on their investments. According to analysts Global Water Intelligence (GWI), around $237 million (£146 million) of venture capital funding was invested globally in water technology companies in January to August this year. Levels of investment ranged from £160,000 to £37 million – with companies developing membrane filtration to treat wastewater at both ends of the scale. While funding is focused on Europe and North America, there are also signs that Asia is becoming a growing water technology market. GWI notes that industrial corporations, such as BASF and ABB, are increasingly investing in water technologies. Extractive industries (oil, gas and mining) are also showing an interest in water, says the London Environmental Investment Forum. It estimates that these heavy water users are responsible for more
IT and telecoms sectors who had not previously worked in the water sector [see box]. But is the flow of money sufficient to fix the problem, and are VCs the best source? Jacob Tompkins, Managing Director of WaterWise, an independent body that promotes efficiency, affirms that the water market offers great returns for investors. But he feels that the involvement of only a few specialist VCs (such as Aqua Resources, Emerald, Ombu, Pictet and Swarraton) pursuing short-term returns means the sector is still a long way from unlocking the full potential of efficiencies and savings that can be made. Big investment firms have the means to pour a great deal more cash into the sector, says Tompkins, but they won’t do this because of their shorttermism: “Investment in water supply and other services can make huge amounts of money but the problem is that the big investment funds aren’t doing this because it would mean a payback period of 20 to 30 years. But we do need big investments from these funds, for the long term, if new technologies are to make a real difference in delivering significant sustainable innovation.” Tompkins argues that, in the UK, a governmentbacked, public-private ‘water fund’ would help to generate the big investment needed to significantly improve water infrastructure. But there is no sign of support from the Government for such a fund yet. Nevertheless, VC-backed water start-ups have helped utility companies cut waste and increase the efficiency of their networks, and have now taken their technologies to other continents [see box]. Some utilities are also spotting the potential of working alongside start-ups. For example, Anglian Water has set up the Water Innovation Network (WIN) to spot potential solutions among the newcomers as well as the more established supply chain companies. WIN manager Vaibhav Tyagi says that about 150 submissions from start-ups have been considered to date, with around four or five of these going on to trial/exploitation stage. One start-up that Anglian is already with working with is i2O Water [see box]. Adam Kingdon, its cofounder, believes that water companies are getting better at identifying and responding to innovations from new organisations. He says i2O has doubled its sales figures in each of the past three years, with annual revenues now around £5 million. Given the structure of the utility sector in the UK, water companies can’t do all the research and development that a commercial business might undertake. To stay ahead of the game, they need creative partnerships with more nimble companies. WIN is now helping such companies to see their solutions rapidly implemented by utilities, thanks to new fast-track frameworks. “Anglian Water has an innovation department, which collaborates with other utility companies as well as the supply chain companies, and there are industry-wide initiatives for this”, Tyagi explains. Enough change to herald a new wave of collaborative innovation? Watch this space.
From start-up to global operator i2O Water In 2006, i2O’s founders received funding from angel investors (individuals or groups looking to fund start-ups). It later won backing from a consortium of VCs led by Swarraton Partners. Its smart water grid technology was initially taken up in the UK by Severn Trent Water and Yorkshire, and is now in use by 14 other UK water companies. There are also over 900 installations in 20 countries outside the UK. i2O offers IT systems to monitor and automatically adjust pressure in water networks in response to fluctuating demand. The process is claimed to reduce system leakage by an average of 20%, and pipe bursting by 30-50%, while customer minimum pressure requirements for water flow are met “99% of the time”. Water companies using the process save energy too, as less is needed to pump water around the system. Bluewater Bio Bluewater Bio’s patented biological treatment system, HYBACS (hybrid bacillus activated sludge), won backing from VC groups Aqua Resources in 2010 and Ombu in 2012. It was first applied to a sewerage treatment plant in South Africa in 2009. A $20 million contract to upgrade and expand a plant in Bahrain followed, and was completed in 2011. In January 2012, Severn Trent Water became the first customer in the UK. HYBACS offers biological treatment of wastewater from domestic, agricultural and industrial sources. Effluent produced from the system is claimed to be less harmful to the environment than other treatments and can be used to irrigate agricultural land, provide material for landscaping, and reclaim desert land. HYBACS is said to reduce energy use and cut capital investment and operational costs. Bluewater Bio also acquired start-up firm Water Innovate, a spin-off from Cranfield University School of Water Sciences. TaKaDu TaKaDu was founded in 2008 by Amir Peleg, an Israel-based entrepreneur who used advanced mathematics and software to increase the efficiency of water networks. With support from VCs including Emerald Technology Ventures and ABB, it now has installations across the world, including one with Thames Water in the UK. It offers real-time monitoring and reporting of problems arising in water networks – leaks, bursts, flow and consumption anomalies, meter faults and maintenance needs. Water companies can accurately pinpoint and react quickly to such issues as they arise. According to TaKaDu, studies conducted by its customers show a 250-400% return on the costs of the technology, taking into account only measurable direct benefits, such as savings in water or labour costs. Additional benefits include efficiency, better maintenance and meeting regulatory targets.
Bob Cervi is a freelance journalist and editor.
Green Futures October 2012
How many shades?
Green Futures October 2012
While the recycled water is almost as clean as tap water, it isn’t meant to be safe for human consumption. “The water we provide from Old Ford for the Olympic Park is distributed via a dedicated water pipe system that is entirely separate from potable water pipes”, says Rutter. “Thames Water also monitors the network and checks to see this water remains disinfected.” Water isn’t the only resource that can be reclaimed from sewage. A number of water companies, including Wessex Water, are harvesting methane from the treatment process, which can be used to generate electricity and heat. The process takes place in an anaerobic digester, which uses bacteria to convert organic matter to methane. At its Avonmouth treatment works, Wessex has installed an additional process, called acid phase digestion (APD), to enhance the amount of methane generated. Before the installation of APD, the plant was generating 20GWh/year; afterwards, this increased to 30GWh/year. The treatment site is now self-sufficient in power use, and a net exporter of electricity to the grid. Reclaiming greywater – from hand basins, showers and washing machines – is another way to reduce the amount of water we draw from rivers and aquifers. Greywater is more easily collected
Photos: orange fields: Comstock/thinkstock / DenGuy/istock
Water isn’t the only resource that can be reclaimed from sewage
Most of the water you use ends up in the same place: the sewer. We take river water, turn it into tap water, use it for washing, drinking and flushing toilets, empty it into a sewer, clean it, and return it to the river. But what if, instead of putting treated effluent back into the river and wash it out to sea, we could put it to good use again? Let’s start with the most uncomfortable part of this story: the toilet. Any water that contains human waste is called blackwater, and requires the highest level of treatment. Though it’s not a pleasant thought, it can be recycled. This summer, Thames Water’s Old Ford plant recycled water directly from London’s sewers, providing enough water for the Olympic Park to flush toilets 80,000 times per day. This cut the Park’s demand for tap water by up to 58%. To achieve this, Old Ford combines traditional sewage treatment methods with those used to turn river water into tap water. “Raw sewage goes through a number of treatment processes [before it is supplied to the Park] – settlement, screening and secondary treatment”, explains Paul Rutter, Thames Water’s Sustainable Resources Manager. “Part of the secondary treatment uses a membrane process to separate solids. The water then passes through activated carbon for colour removal and is chlorinated.”
Michael Ashcroft goes back to black to see what we can reclaim from waste water.
than blackwater, requires less treatment, and doesn’t have the same infrastructure needs. In theory, greywater from homes could also be used to flush toilets and water gardens. Though it’s far cleaner than blackwater, greywater does still need to be handled with care. “Even if it’s filtered, the organic content in greywater means that if it’s not chlorinated then stuff can grow in there over time”, says architect Tyler Caine. The challenge with domestic greywater is one of scale – the kit needed is disproportionately large for the application, making systems too expensive and complex for domestic applications. “Greywater is more viable for commercial buildings than for residential applications,” says Caine, and indeed that’s where the action is. The Bank of America tower at One Bryant Park is a recent addition to the New York skyline, and the world’s first skyscraper to achieve the highest, platinum certification from LEED (a rating system for the environmental performance of buildings). The building captures greywater from basins – which, with the help of more traditional low-flow toilets and waterless urinals, saves nearly eight million gallons of water per year. One Bryant Park also collects every drop of rainwater that falls on the site – some 48 inches per year. Much of the water collected at One Bryant Park is used to supply its cooling towers, so most of it returns to the atmosphere. This provides a double benefit for a city’s infrastructure. “If you’re collecting rainwater to use on your site, not only are you helping the efficiency of your building, but everything you collect is water that’s not going into the sewer system”, says Caine, who worked on One Bryant Park. This is especially valuable in cities with older sewer systems that combine waste pipes with storm drains: heavy rainfall can cause the sewer network to overflow into rivers. Another potential role for wastewater reuse lies in industry. ArjoWiggins Graphic, who produce the recycled paper for Green Futures, use water treatment and purification systems at their mills, which has helped reduce water use by 15% over five years. “Wherever possible, water is recycled and re-used up to 12 times, before being biologically treated and discharged into the water stream – in a cleaner condition than when it first entered the mill”, says Shannan Hodgson from ArjoWiggins Graphic. Meanwhile, the Pasteurization Technology Group has developed a technology that goes one stage further. Not only does it clean industrial wastewater without chemicals: it also generates enough energy to power itself. As the solid waste in the water breaks down, it releases biogas, which is captured and burned to drive a combined heat and power turbine. Heat from the turbine supplies energy to disinfect the water by pasteurisation, while a heat exchanger transfers energy back from the resultant clean water to the incoming waste stream, reducing energy needs by over 97%. The plant is effectively powered by the very wastewater it cleans. As yet untested, the technology could also have applications across the developing world, where access to electricity is limited. In fact, the
developing world will be where innovation in water reuse will have the biggest impact – something that’s already caught the eye of Bill and Melinda Gates, who last year put US$3 million towards ‘Reinventing the Toilet’. The challenge was to develop a toilet that would, for just five cents a day, work without power, plumbed water, or a sewer line: in effect a cheap, simple blackwater recycling system. The winning toilet, designed by a team from the California Institute of Technology, is solar powered, and uses an electrochemical reactor to treat waste while producing hydrogen – for a fuel cell – and fertiliser. The water is disinfected and can be reused for further flushes or to irrigate land. The potential for water reuse to improve quality of life and reduce our pressure on the environment is significant. Ultimately, every drop we reuse is a drop we leave in the ground. Michael Ashcroft is an energy technology and policy analyst, and freelance writer.
Green Futures October 2012
Mouth watering Oliver Balch finds out how the food and drink industry is rising to the challenge of dry times. Many might envy Andy Wood. He oversees a successful regional brewery. He counts some of the UK’s leading retailers among his customers. And he gets to work in the picturesque town of Southwold on the Suffolk coast. The success of Adnams – which produces around 85,000 barrels of cask ale a year – is not without effort. Nor is it necessarily permanent. Over the last ten years, the Suffolk brewer has installed a range of resource efficiency measures to ensure its on-going efficiency. As with many food and drinks companies, water comes high on the list. Southwold is located in East Anglia, the UK’s driest region. Earlier this year, the county was subject to water restrictions as low rainfall threatened an extended draught. “As a mid-sized business, we need to keep an absolutely tight control over our costs”, Wood says, highlighting a major driver for water-dependent industries. The construction of a new distribution site and brewery back in 2006 and 2007, respectively, gave Adnams the opportunity to upgrade its on-site water efficiencies. Rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling systems are now standard. Its anaerobic digester for wastewater veers closer to cutting-edge. The East Anglian brewer hasn’t left things there. It has linked the water inputs for its distillery and its brewery – essentially cutting its water needs in half at a single stroke. Adnams today uses around three pints of water for every pint of beer produced: that’s almost half the industry average. Its water efficiency has won the eye of some of the UK’s big retailers, who are “interested themselves with the sustainability story”, says Wood. One of those is Marks and Spencer (M&S). Under its Plan A strategy, the UK high street retailer is seeking to decrease its own water consumption. Innovations like sensor taps, flush valves and urinal
controls are finding their way into more than 300 M&S stores. It’s even trialling waterless urinals.
Water chains In-house measures are only part of the story. The bulk of the water footprint for big retailers occurs in their supply chains. A value chain analysis by the UK’s largest supermarket, Tesco, found that its own stores account for only 3% of its total water use. In July, Anglian Water Business held the Global Water Challenge: a major conference for companies and stakeholders to share strategic thinking on water use in the supply chain. Louise Nicholls, Head of Responsible Trading for Food at M&S, spoke about the role of water in the responsible sourcing of food products, and the need for businesses to engage upstream. M&S has committed to improving efficiency and stewardship in four parts of its supply chain that are particularly vulnerable to water stress: cotton production, dye houses, farming and food manufacture. At the same event, Phillip Hubbert of specialist lettuce producer JE Piccaver described the significant investment the company has made in water efficiency, such as developing targeted irrigation techniques and installing rainwater storage. It is now looking to improve water use in offices, warehouses and packing centres. “As is often the case when you do things for economic reasons, it turns out to be the sustainable route as well”, he said. The case is particularly clear when it comes to agriculture, which of all global sectors, is by far the largest user of water. As Marcus Norton, Head of Water and investor climate change programmes at the Carbon Disclosure Project, explains: “Growing raw ingredients accounts for much more water than [food] processing or brewing. This is where much of the risk lies.”
Green Futures October 2012
Sustainable Development at the beverage company, cites a project in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Agricultural and industrial activity in the region has severely impacted the water table. To remedy the situation, SABMiller has helped fund four water recharge dams. Located on natural fissures, the relatively low-cost structures retain the monsoon rains long enough for the aquifer below to
be replenished. The move has seen the groundwater rise by nine metres already – equivalent to the needs of SABMiller’s brewery in the area. “This is about ensuring that our breweries have long-term access to high quality water”, says Wales. “But to achieve that, you can’t just deal with the brewery. It has to be about the value chain and the watersheds.”
Photo: Peter Simard/Corbis
“Water is a global challenge, but the solutions are all local.” That, in a nutshell, is the thinking behind SABMiller’s flagship Water Futures initiative. Operational in nine countries, from Colombia and the US to India and Zambia, the initiative aims to develop collective solutions to pressing water risks in cities and watersheds. Andy Wales, Head of
Going local: SABMiller
Addressing these supply-side risks calls for innovation. Experiments in drought-resilient crops provide a case in point. PepsiCo, for example, is currently researching water-efficient varieties of potato for use in crisp manufacture. In a similar vein, General Mills has been pioneering an advanced drip irrigation system with broccoli and cauliflower growers in Mexico. Even more important than innovation, however, is collaboration. Multiple sectors are involved in using water, and they also need to be involved in conserving it. In the UK, Wessex Water is working with farmers – on land outside its own catchment area – to reduce the amount of treatment groundwater needs due to the presence of pesticides and nitrates in the soil. These pollutants can be removed at specialised treatment plants, but building and operating them is both expensive and carbon intensive. Such a plant was planned for Eagle Lodge, in Dorchester, but the need for it was overcome when farmers worked closely with a Wessex adviser to improve some elements of their practice, from manure management and the use of fertiliser, to the drilling dates for crops. Similarly, in Kenya, a multi-stakeholder education project, supported by retailers M&S and Tesco, is working with farmers and local residents to improve water stewardship at Lake Naivasha, the country’s second largest freshwater lake. The project aims to re-establish a healthy ecosystem, in which plants and micro-organisms treat the water through natural processes, avoiding ground pollution. For collaborative approaches to succeed, companies must win the hearts and minds of local people, insists Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business at M&S: “Of all the sustainability challenges that we face, water is the most location-specific. It defies one technology fix.” With this in mind, the retailer has worked with environmental charity WWF to produce a 16-page guide to Good Water Stewardship. Its aim is to influence M&S’s global network of around 10,000 agricultural producers. The document clarifies the nature of water-related risks – physical, financial, political and reputational – and outlines strategies for engaging local partners. As Barry explains, “Beyond providing a broad framework [for farmers] to explore water conservation, we can’t lecture from an office in London, saying in India you do X, and in South Africa you do Y.” Andrew Kuyk is Director of Sustainability and Competitiveness at the London-based Food and Drink Federation (FDF). Asked for examples of locallyspecific solutions, he points to Nestlé in the Punjab. The Swiss food conglomerate is encouraging local dairy farmers in the north Indian state to intensify milk production and thereby reduce water use. A wider fodder area, more lactating cows, and higher cow productivity are some of the ways in which this is being achieved. In the same region, Nestlé is working with the International Water Management Institute to minimise the water footprint of rice production. It takes 1,034m3 of irrigation water to produce a tonne of rice in the Punjab – almost twice that for dairy farming. Among the measures being implemented is laser-assisted land levelling, which reduces groundwater pumping by one-third while also improving rice yields.
Back in East Anglia, specialist lettuce producer Jepco is taking a high-tech approach. The firm has installed Enviroscan probes that detect electrical conductivity resistance to measure soil moisture during the entire growing period. The data can be monitored via computer or smartphone, and is then fed through into the mobile boom used for irrigation. The location and water use for each pull of the boom is subsequently recorded as well. Kuyk calls on businesses to take an integrated view of water-related risks and impacts across product lifecycles. US beverage giant Coca-Cola has opted for just such a strategy. Under its Community Water Partnerships programme, it’s pursuing over 300 community-based water replenishment projects in 86 countries. Further up the chain, water reduction measures in its factories have seen the water use ratio drop 16% since 2004, to 2.6 litres per litre of product. By the end of 2012, meanwhile, Coca Cola is requiring all its bottlers to have water management plans in place. Dax Lovegrove, Head of Business and Industry at WWF, is also a strong advocate of holistic approaches to water management. To be successful, however, companies must have a clear idea of their impacts from the off. That requires a comprehensive assessment of water abstraction and pollution in critical river basins. Among the examples he cites is that of global brewer SABMiller [see box]. Back in 2009, the company worked with environment group WWF and consultancy URS Corporation to map the water impacts of its businesses in South Africa and the Czech Republic. Anyone interested in water footprinting their operations would do well to check out the methodology in the subsequent report. As Lovegrove concludes: “Leading businesses understand this is less about water efficiency in isolation and more about understanding local situations and mobilising collective efforts to ensure water security for all: communities, wildlife, and industry.”
Even more important than innovation is collaboration
Oliver Balch is a freelance journalist specialising in the role of business in society.
Green Futures October 2012
Water Works is a Green Futures Special Edition, produced in association with Thames Water, Anglian Water, i2O and Wessex Water. Thames Water, serving London and the Thames Valley, is Britain’s largest water and sewerage utility. Every day it supplies 9 million people with 2.6 billion litres of water and treats 4 billion litres of sewage from 14 million customers. It is also the biggest renewable energy generator inside the M25. www.thameswater.co.uk Anglian Water Business provides water and wastewater services, expert technical help and engineering solutions, to businesses throughout the east of England. We are dedicated to helping our customers to reduce their water consumption and associated energy use and carbon emissions. Find out more about our services at: www.anglianwater.co.uk/business i2O’s Advanced Pressure Management offers the world’s leading solutions for optimising water distribution network performance. It delivers six benefits to water companies: leakage reduction, burst frequency reduction, lower operating costs, improved customer service, energy savings and extended infrastructure lifespan. South East Water, Veolia Water, Severn Trent, Yorkshire Water and Anglian Water, and hundreds of water networks in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America all use i2O’s patented system. www.i2Owater.com
Editor: Anna Simpson Editor in Chief, Green Futures: Martin Wright Production: Katie Shaw Design: The Urban Ant Ltd With thanks to Jenny Hammond, Ulrike Stein and Polly Wheldon. Printed by Pureprint, using their environmental technology and vegetable-based inks, on 100% recycled and FSC certified Cocoon Silk paper, supplied by Arjowiggins Graphic. Published October 2012. © Green Futures Reg charity no. 1040519 Company no. 2959712 VAT reg. no. 677 7475 70
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Wessex Water provides water to more than one million people and treats sewage from more than 2.5 million customers living in an area stretching from Bristol to Bournemouth and from Minehead to Salisbury. www.wessexwater.co.uk Green Futures is the leading international magazine on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Founded by Jonathon Porritt, it is published by Forum for the Future, a non-profit organisation working globally with business and government to create a sustainable future. www.greenfutures.org.uk www.forumforthefuture.org
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Green Futures October 2012
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Published on Oct 23, 2012