Sunday, April 13, 2008

Water, the new oil

The $300 billion worldwide water industry is thought of as a policy area and an energy area, but not as a technology area. Every industry is really now a technology industry. Now is still an early phase of the water industry and there appears to be a lot of low-hanging fruit room for improvement such as reducing the 25-33% leakage that can occur in transport canals and pipe systems. Before looking at technology, the current focal points of improvement are reclamation, hydrologic models and conservation incentives.

Desalination and other Technology
There has not been a lot of recent improvement in desalination technology, and it remains expensive, 25 times the cost of traditionally piped water in some markets. The main reason for it remaining expensive is the high energy cost as a key input, so it is seen as an energy problem not a water solution. Solar, wind and other energy solutions could improve this. Advances in membrane filtration for reverse osmosis and developing other desalination mechanisms such as synthetic bacteria could shift the economics.

Hydrologic Models and Reclamation
Hydrologic models are the main focus of current improvement to better manage surface and ground water and to reclaim rainwater. Surface and ground water can be stored conjunctively and transported between storage mechanisms using such tools as aquifer injection wells and recharge ponds. Rainwater can be reclaimed for direct use (irrigation for example) and for reservoir supply.

Pricing and Metering
Another low-hanging fruit solution would be the widespread metering of water consumption. Some anecdotal studies have shown consumption dropping by a third with the advent of metering and that water is price elastic, usage declines when price increases. Removing or reducing discounted water as a farm subsidy could drive conservation as true costs are experienced by users. Water markets could further encourage conservation-oriented agricultural use and make prices more transparent and accurate as water market participants are attracted. Tools like the Drought Monitor could help authorities shift water supply around a fungible national grid.


John M. said...

Hi Melanie

Interesting post. I am a bit concerned about the world water situation, as well. Funny enough, my generation took a good while to equate money with water. The thought of paying for water when I was a kid was absurd.

Are you aware of the work of John Pina Craven?

His idea is to sink pipes down to 3000 feet or lower and pump up seawater. The cold water is run through pipes on the surface. Condensation produces fresh water.
He also plans to pump the warmer surface water into a vacuum chamber which is then evaporated into steam that drives a turbine to produce electricity. His system can also irrigate crops and provide air-conditioning.

I'm not sure where this stands now or how feasible it is, but it is intriguing.

Here's a couple of links:

LaBlogga said...

Hi John, thanks I appreciate your comments and links. I had just seen the condensation solution proposal. A variety of innovative entrepreneurial ideas will need to be tried as with alternative energy to find some good solutions.