Changing habits key to water conservation
Saving water requires changes in consumer habits and new technology.
Water, and the consumption of it, is an ever-present issue in the GCC. It is well known, and has been for some years, that the GCC has the highest per capita consumption of water in the world, yet the region seems to be playing catch-up. An ever expanding population places increasing stresses on an infrastructure that, fundamentally, is not geared towards such demand.
Sustainability isn’t simply a concept, butit is taking longer than hoped to gain traction. The overwhelming burden of keeping the population watered in one of the world’s hottest and driest regions is a challenge in itself, let alone establishing a more enlightened approach to conservation of its natural resources.
Changes are being made, however. There is a growing awareness, as Giampietro Sanna, managing director, utilities, Middle East, Accenture says: “Since the GCC countries have the highest per capita consumption of domestic water in the world, addressing consumer habits is certainly of paramount importance, but technology (eg advanced water metering systems and water-saving irrigation technologies) can be a game changer and can definitely support significant reduction in consumption.
“Further, leakage detection and repair technologies, as well as solutions that address more effective asset management/maintenance, must also be considered, as unacceptably high technical losses and underperforming distribution networks are severely impacting many countries that suffer from water scarcity.”
Bassem Halabi, Metito Group business development director, says the limited natural supply of fresh water underlines the huge importance of managing this limited resource more efficiently. “Over the last few years, countries around the region have started to think more economically in terms of water consumption, and we have seen many initiatives and programmes aimed at raising awareness of the issue and investments into different efficient technologies and infrastructures,” he says. “The region still has a long way to go, but it has the right motivation and the right attitude to tackle this challenge and we’re happy to see more and more governments and companies getting involved.”
Halabi counters that technological innovation doesn’t need to be multi-million dollar schemes; rather, technological innovation can range from shower heads that produce high pressure with less water to ‘green’ washing machines. However, having systems and infrastructures designed around water efficiency is important as well. So, combine consumer-oriented solutions with country-wide water grids built around efficiency and human awareness and you can potentially save billions of litres annually.
In July, DEWA commenced the implementation of the ‘Green Footprint’ initiative. This is part of DEWA’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions and minimise its negative effects on the environment, as well as promote the concept of rational consumption of energy and water, and educate the public about the best practices they can adopt to rationalise consumption for a sustainable environment, and to reduce the carbon footprint.
“In line with the strategy of Dubai to reduce global warming and find sustainable solutions for the production and consumption of energy, we work to promote the rationalisation of electricity consumption to reduce carbon emissions that negatively affects the environment,” said Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD and CEO of DEWA.
“DEWA adopts a plan aiming to reduce the impacts of producing and consuming energy and water, which represents a big challenge at both national and international levels due to an increase in demand for electricity and water,” said Waleed Salman, enterprise VP, strategy and business development, DEWA.
So what else is being done? GCC countries are all facing water stress, as defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which means that KSA, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman are all consuming more water than is naturally available. To fill this gap, GCC utilities operate large desalination facilities, which in turn require significant energy feedstock.
“Some GCC utilities have taken steps to reduce overall consumption by investing in programs to maximise the reuse of waste water, which is an efficient solution, since the costs account for a small share of overall desalination costs,” Sanna explains. “Nevertheless, to support further reductions in water consumption levels, the GCC should also work to minimise network leakages and provide small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and residential customers with simple solutions to reduce their water usage,’ he added.
Another firm, Schneider, says utilities in the GCC are increasingly investing in Smart City technology, which offers solutions for everything from power management and monitoring through to water leakage detection and control.
Schneider Electric’s SmartWater solutions help utilities to understand supply and demand requirements for urban areas so they can have intelligent monitoring systems, which measure a host of statistics and controls including pressure and leakage.
Towards this end, the utilities provider will use ‘smart water network tools’ that improve operational efficiency and reduce water wastage and downtime by accessing real-time information from the network. Utilities can then report and respond with speed and the highest accuracy, regardless of the geographical location.
Education, not just technology plays a part. The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) earlier this year concluded a workshop with key government and non-government partners that will advance and refine the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s Water Resource Management High Level Strategy and Action Plan for 2014-2018.
The strategy aims to accelerate progress towards an efficient management and conservation of Abu Dhabi’s three water resources – desalinated, recycled and groundwater. With water consumption rates already high in Abu Dhabi, and with its population expected to exceed five million by 2030, demand for potable water is expected to double.
Halabi agrees that changing consumer habits, not just technology, is essential for future sustainability. “There’s no doubt that consumer habits and awareness play a crucial role in reducing water consumption; however, having systems and infrastructures designed around water efficiency is important as well,” he says. “There is no absolute system and therefore you need to combine the human element with the appropriate technology.’
Dr. Mohammed Yousef Al Madfaei, executive director of the Integrated Environment Policy and Planning Sector, says: “The sustainability of the water sector and long-term supply solutions for a growing population and economy can only be fully addressed by an integrated and sustainable water resources management system that ensures water is managed as one resource. By focusing on efficient resource allocation, we can ensure sustainable multi-source water usage. We need to work together to protect our environment; we need to provide end users with incentives to change behaviour, so that our culture and natural heritage can be preserved for future generations."
Building on this, ADWEA hosted the 19th meeting of the GCC Power & Water Conservation in Abu Dhabi, which featured the sixth workshop for power and water conservation. ADWEA has established a strategy focusing on water consumption, conservation and awareness. Abdulla Saif al-Nuaimi, ADWEA's Director General, stated: “The challenge facing water utilities in the UAE is the scarcity of water resources. Increasing consumption will exceed production levels; mainly due to accelerated population growth, higher living standards, mega construction projects and fuel acquisition constraints.
Further, some networks are ageing and lack a unified strategy for renovation; along with a lack of central control systems all these represent critical challenges requiring cooperation to reach practical innovative solutions."
In a campaign that ran in June, Unilever partnered with Choithram to promote water conservation and waste management. “As part of Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have made the commitment to halve our environmental impact by 2020. However, if you look at the value chain of any of our products, only 5% of the environmental footprint is under our direct impact and 68% of it comes from the consumer. Hence, through this initiative we aim to change behaviour and encourage good practices of waste management and water conservation," said Arijit Ghose, managing director at Unilever Gulf.
Also in July, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) in collaboration with the Emirates Wild Life Society (EWS) organised a two-day training workshop, attended by over 60 representatives of more than 30 government departments in Dubai, on topics related to the conservation of power and water consumption in office buildings.
Technology, does, regardless of education play a pivotal role, as Sanna explains. “A key step to reducing consumption is to measure the consumption in real time. Smart metering can provide customers with full real-time visibility of their consumption levels, thus driving changes in consumer habits. Advanced information systems will be central to any water conservation strategy as this technology can help to fill the current gap in the monitoring, reporting, sharing and dissemination of water data. In turn, this data can be leveraged by water utilities to build innovative tariff structures, identify leakages and reduce pipeline inefficiency.
However, technology innovation must be coupled with a range of structural reforms to overcome issues relating to water regulation, such as tariff structures, to incentivise and enable better management of assets.
Unlike some other technological innovation in the region, the economic downturn hasn’t necessarily had such a negative impact. Metito’s Grey water recycling system, which reduces water consumption by recycling shower and kitchen ‘grey water’ is relatively cheap and doesn’t form an economic burden. But the most important thing remains public awareness campaigns about water reduction and recycling initiatives. For example, Halabi carried out presentations at several educational institutions across the UAE where attendees were given the opportunity to drink bottled NEWater, knowing that its origin is treated waste water.
Ultimately, as Halabi says, water conservation is a joint endeavour. “There is no absolute system and therefore you need to combine the human element with the appropriate technology,” he says.
Steps to conserve water
- Consumer awareness
- Integration of water-saving tech into new builds
- Smart meters
- Reformed tariff structures
- Drip, and other water-saving, irrigation technologies
- Leakage detection systems
- More preventative maintenance
- Greater reuse and recycling of water