Exploring The Water-energy Nexus
energyⁿ manager|July - September 2019
There is a clear need in urban India and the countryside for concerted investigations that address the water sector's impact on energy resources, and the energy sector's impact on water resources, including development, operations and end-uses, says Hariharan Chandrashekar.
Hariharan Chandrashekar

As in many knowledge domains across the world, there has been an explosion of research and lay writings in the media on matters of environment and ecology. There is a general and vague understanding, fuelled by the odd eruption of bad news [for e.g., Cape Town] or the knee-jerk on building resilience every time there is a natural disaster [e.g., post- Tsunami Tamil Nadu or post-flood Kerala]. That water is on top of most crises in the world is recognised but not yet touching people's lives badly enough for a response that will bring the sharp shift in water management that cities and the countryside need. Ever so slowly, over the last 3 to 5 years, water-users in the urban segment are stirring themselves to some bit of action on what they should be doing to mitigate their own personal challenge at home , hotel, office or their company or industry. Farmers continue not to see the challenge and lay the blame at the door of governments. Uniformally, all of them as water-users have not a clue on what lies as solutions. Policymakers and Governments have shown no inclination to respond to the crisis beyond the fire-fighting modes they don every once a while when things erupt.

Brave hearts in the business of exploring solutions don't want the emphasis on bad news. It is not for want of solutions, they insist, and this writer is one of them rooting for such simple changes at the waterusers' end while of course acknowledging that the war cannot be fought without the collective heave of all shoulders across the spectrum from water-providers to technologists to integrated solution providing professionals whose tribe needs to grow, and the Government's multiple agencies which are grounded firmly still on supply-side solutions.

Like with all things that need change, the battles on the different fronts have to be market-led for no major new direction can be wrought without the need being felt hard and tangibly by users. At the turn of this century, Phnom Penh wrote a story of self-dependence on water that could well be emulated by any city in India.

In all this, a sanity check on what those solutions are, the source of such challenges and solutions thereof, are yet to be explored with clarity or determination. Water and energy are so inextricably interlinked and yet there is very little as documented research and solution directions. The relationship or "nexus" between the water and energy sectors is a subject that needs serious attention - for there lies solutions that will bring mitigates to the crisis over the next decade if implemented assiduously by all stakeholders acting like one - and that includes the Government.

There are no publicly available research papers and studies that outline the criteria that can be collected and catalogued into a database. There is a clear need in urban India for concerted investigations that address the water sector's impact on energy resources, and the energy sector's impact on water resources, including development, operation and end-uses.

Compiling of such research - without the risk of adding to the volumes of documentation in many such areas - is needed to determine the scope of such studies and investigations. Key results, and possible gaps, need understanding with action research and demonstrations that are made possible by collaborations with retail and bulk water users in urban, agriculture and industrial areas. Such gaps in research are to be identified and inventoried. It is only then that a roadmap for action, with timeframes for execution in identified zones, and plans for investments that balance economy and ecology, will and can emerge. Every expert knows that multi-sector resource management and overall resource efficiencies is the key, and yet on the ground there is little to show.

Most Water-Energy research currently underway is focused on the economics and energy efficiencies associated with water supply and wastewater treatment, with little information found on secondary energy uses such as those relating to enduses in buildings, in agriculture and industrial processing.

Across India, and indeed the world, very few assessments have been conducted of embedded energy in water systems. Sadly, there are no comprehensive studies that provide a detailed audit of embedded energy demands for an entire local, regional or national water/wastewater system. Most establishmentarian approaches have a bias in favour of upstream water systems owned and managed by municipalities (e.g., water pumping stations, municipal water delivery pipelines, central water treatment plants and such). Most Water-Energy research currently underway is focused on the economics and energy efficiencies associated with water supply and wastewater treatment, with little information found on secondary energy uses such as those relating to end-uses in buildings, in agriculture and industrial processing. The end-use segment is often, even deliberately, overlooked since this process occurs outside the 'water industry' and more importantly, outside the jurisdiction of city or state or central authorities. This is why there lies a prejudice in favour of State-ownedand-operated entities. This should not be surprising to the water professional, for historically in the last hundred years as the population exploded and rapid urbanisation came about, these central solutions seemed convenient for engineers and governments on public projects to adopt.

This kind of bias is not unique to India. Australian government grants, for example, are prejudiced in favour of 'centralised solutions' to help maintain the status quo of centralised utility services.

The city of Sydney as a municipality (local government) with no control on centralised water services was, in fact, a big customer of Sydney Water. It was headed by a green and bold mayor at the turn of this decade . Her government-backed developing of decentralised solutions, driven at the water-user end, did not cut ice with Sydney Water. The conflict brewed with the bias of Sydney Water against such solutions breaking open to the surface. Sydney Water was regulated - as are all Water Boards in India - with a steel framework that dis-incentivised investment in decentralised solutions.

Decentralised and customer-owned solutions start to show up when we focus on the 'demand-side' end of the value chain. This is the 'politics' that one runs into in mobilising government support for decentralised solutions.

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