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3 Reasons why the water sector should be on your radar

As a regular reader of ESI Africa’s newsletter, you will have noticed a steady stream of water sector-related content.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 02/09/2020

These articles go as far as to include topics on sanitation and agriculture. Why would we cover these sectors in an energy and power journal? The answer is that no industry can continue to operate in the silos of this century.

Isolating your market is a sure-fire way of missing opportunities. The ideal scenario is to apply a systems approach and seek integration. Here are three reasons to put water on your to-do list.

Reason 1: Water sector and the circular economy

Circularity is in response to the conventional ‘take-make-consume and dispose’ model for business and economic growth. It’s already underway as companies have established symbioses such as between UL and Rubicon.

These companies took the time to find common ground and have partnered to develop services that will help their clients manage and divert waste from landfills. How amazing! The result will be a reduction of associated carbon emissions.

This brings me back to the water sector, which is possibly the largest untapped sector in contributing to the circular economy. There exists a great need to identify circularity models to increase the efficiency of water use, lower carbon-based energy consumption, and provide valuable materials for agriculture. As an example, energy production at the water distribution network, and recovery of fertilisers from wastewater.

Reason 2: Infrastructure, new or refurbished

The global lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in heavy job losses. Hard hit are the construction, steel and cement industries, which were already under stress before the crisis.

One of South Africa’s biggest names in construction, Group Five, which built the Moses Mabhida Stadium, filed for business rescue in March 2019. Sadly, this affected 8,000 jobs. Considering that many are unskilled and semi-skilled workers, the repercussions to households have been severe.

In South Africa, there is an urgent need to provide piped water and sanitation to informal settlements as well as to upgrade existing urban and rural water assets. Here lies an opportunity for the construction industry to adopt a creative approach to working with municipalities to develop affordable and sustainable WASH infrastructure solutions.

Reason 3: Water-energy nexus

As a water resource, interest in desalination (desal) is driven by increasing water scarcity, climate change and urbanisation. However, on average, desalinated water is two to three times more expensive than other water sources like groundwater aquifers. One of the most significant expenses is the energy required to run the desal plant.

At most of these plants, electrical energy accounts for about 35 to 40% of total operating costs. However, with new energy recovery devices and renewable energy options such as solar and wind with battery storage, the net benefits of desalination are growing.

Look out for the launch of ESI Africa Issue 4 next month for more on the topic of desalination.  

There are, of course, many more reasons that come to mind. Drop me a line or connect with the ESI Africa team on social media to add your reason to the list. Or let us know which of the three listed above most resonates with you.

Until next week.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Nicolette is the Editor of ESI Africa print journal, ESI-Africa.com and the annual African Power & Energy Elites. She is passionate about placing African countries on the international stage and is driven by the motto "The only way to predict the future is to create it". Join her in creating a sustainable future through articles and multimedia content.