IC: Eighty percent of municipal wastewater is discharged untreated, according to the UN. Reusing treated wastewater would significantly ease water scarcity. What should water companies do to increase water reuse?
PW: Governments and municipalities should already understand the need to recycle and invest in reclaiming used water. Again, Singapore is a good example of what can be done. The city’s Public Utilities Board started producing high-grade reclaimed water called NEWater that supplies up to 40 percent of Singapore’s needs.
Another example is the Dan wastewater treatment plant in water-stressed Israel, which treats municipal wastewater on a large scale to irrigate crops in the Negev Desert. This project not only stopped raw sewage from being pumped into the Mediterranean, it helped transform an arid desert into fertile farmland for fruit and vegetables.
IC: It seems the world is already in, or almost in, a global water crisis. How can water companies turn this crisis into business opportunities?
PW: There are several ways to turn water scarcity into business opportunities and many companies have demonstrated this. The main criteria are 1) make local solutions for local needs by understanding what the supply issues are and by using the right technologies to address them; 2) develop solutions that are efficient in terms of energy and materials and are, therefore, economically viable; and 3) make sure they are affordable for local users.
A good example is one of our member companies, Jain Irrigation, which has developed a range of low-cost micro-irrigation systems for smallholder farmers in India. One of Jain’s innovations is a drip irrigation system for rice, which is a water-intensive crop grown in flooded fields. Jain’s system is affordable for smallholders and produces a higher yield than conventional growing methods, from minimal amounts of water. It also has a high market potential worldwide.
IC: What can water companies do to improve water use and reuse by industrial and agricultural businesses?
PW: We covered this in earlier questions. One thing I would like to add is the need for cross-sectoral approaches that connect users in different sectors. For instance, municipal wastewater can be treated and reused in agriculture and industry, and industrial wastewater can be treated and reused to grow food. One sector can use another sector’s wastewater, creating a win-win situation for both parties.
Companies within a sector can also exchange treated wastewater. Two of our members, ENGIE and BP in Western Australia, were faced with dwindling supplies of water and higher tariffs. Along with others they started a water reclamation program where unwanted wastewater from one company was treated and used as industrial water by another company. In one plant alone, this saved $1.5 million in costs and reduced the use of a scarce resource in a water-stressed area.
IC: The idea of smart, resilient cities is taking hold, especially among water utilities, which provide the fundamental services of any community – supplying and distributing clean water and removing used water. How can water companies help make their towns and cities smart and resilient?
PW: Cities are under increasing pressure. They face many challenges - in water supply, sewage treatment, waste collection and disposal, climate change and severe weather, greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation. Two WBCSD programs – Energy and the Circular Economy, and Sustainable Cities and Mobility – are directed at increasing the resilience of cities and in bringing companies together to develop smart solutions to these challenges.
Water companies are also under pressure from growing demand, fluctuating energy prices and aging infrastructure.
One way for water companies to deal with these pressures is with solutions that link suppliers with consumers. Smart metering is one example. Another is interactive websites through which consumers can track their water usage and learn conservation tips. These last two methods are effective if water is correctly priced, as consumers usually want to save money whenever possible.
Another way to increase city resilience is through technologies that reduce the use of fresh water, either by reusing wastewater, encouraging conservation or identifying leaks in aging distribution networks.
IC: How can ABB help its water industry customers live up to the UN SDGs, especially those on water and sanitation?
PW: Through innovation, new technologies and integrated solutions. And, by making water supply, treatment and management more efficient. All of these will contribute to SDG attainment in some way. To me this is a huge market opportunity for a company like ABB.
Whereas the business of some companies is to deliver on the SDGs - by supplying clean water, food, sanitation, etc., - ABB is clearly an enabler. It helps other companies contribute to the SDGs by making their operations more efficient. ABB does this across a broad range of applications, such as optimizing production, reducing pipeline leakage, cutting energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, predicting maintenance needs, and so on. Solutions like these enable others to provide clean water and effective water management.
IC: If you had to write a three-point plan on what water companies should do to improve water use and reuse, what would those three points be?
PW: First, is constant innovation, offering context-related low-cost solutions.
Second, working with customers - municipalities, industry, agriculture and domestic consumers – to increase their understanding of the value of water and to address water scarcity.
Third, reduce reliance on fresh water by using circular water management and technologies like desalination, because freshwater is limited and will not meet growing demand.