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The water-energy nexus

Ability to provide water and energy requires the use of innovative technologies to meet challenges of affordability, sustainability and responsibility

Gulf News

Co-location of the upcoming International Water Summit in Abu Dhabi with the World Future Energy Summit points to the importance of the integral link between water and energy — usually referred to as the “Water-Energy Nexus.”

Finding ways to optimise this link and the relationship between the water and energy sectors is the focus of much work in both industries. The reason is simple. The continued security, health, economic development and environment of nations, both in the Gulf and around the world, depend on a sustainable supply of both energy and water.

These two critical resources are inextricably linked and interconnected. The production of energy requires large volumes of water, while the treatment, distribution of water — and particularly generation of fresh water by desalination, so vital in this region — is equally dependent upon readily available, low-cost and efficient use of energy.

The ability to provide both clean energy and water requires the use of innovative technologies to meet the challenges of affordability, sustainability and environmental responsibility. In fact, throughout the world, demand for energy and water is increasing. Competition for these resources is escalating and sustaining ready access to water and energy has become a social, economic and political imperative.

Historically, energy and water issues have been examined and managed separately. This model is no longer satisfactory since they are so deeply intertwined. Finding meaningful solutions to these critical resource issues requires a broad-based collaborative R&D effort, the willingness to support technological advances beyond the laboratory, and ongoing efforts to further the knowledge of all stakeholders if we are to generate meaningful technological innovations.

In March 2012, at the sixth World Water Forum held in Marseille, the International Desalination Association (IDA) announced the formation of a global Energy Task Force whose goal is to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in energy consumption in all major seawater desalination processes by 2015. If one keeps in mind that, over the past two decades, energy requirements for desalination have already been lowered by more than 50 per cent, realising this goal will be a significant and meaningful development indeed.

The Energy Task Force will convene its first meeting during the International Water Summit, with discussions aimed at establishing benchmarks in energy requirements for all current desalination processes and developing strategies to lead the way forward. IDA will like to extend an invitation to members of the energy industry to join the meeting as observers and participate in the dialogue.

Of course, desalination is just one aspect of water in the water-energy nexus. Water and energy are intimately linked in all phases of their existence with important implications for technology development goals and programmes. Each is an essential input for productive and sustainable development and healthy human societies. Both are also derived from natural resources and their use by humans creates a series of impacts on the sustainability of ecosystems.

Can the desalination and power industry find the appropriate solution to the nexus of water and power? The answer is yes. With ongoing education and information sharing, innovation and integration, which provide better energy efficiency both for thermal and membrane processes, hybridisation for better matched power and water requirements, storage and new solutions for renewable energy and environment protection.

Leon Awerbuch is a Director of the International Desalination Association and Interim Dean of the IDA Desalination Academy, which will conduct courses in conjunction with the International Water Summit. He is also president and CTO of Leading Edge Technologies Ltd.