Decarbonisation pathways – the water sector responds to the climate challenge

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Krishna R Pagilla and Zhiyong Jason Ren, editors of a new book on the potential for decarbonisation in the water industry, explain why they hope it will be a valuable and transformative publication for sector professionals.

Humans and ecosystems are facing existential climate risks such as extreme weather events due to increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere. The adverse effects have been amplified by the socio-economic conditions of communities facing these risks. Although the risks are affecting both the rich and the poor, the inability of the latter to adapt and be resilient to climate risks has made them disproportionately vulnerable.

Energy production and land use systems including industry, agriculture, transportation, urbanisation / deforestation, the built environment, and water and waste processing and treatment are principal sectors causing or increasing GHG emissions in the recent past and present. There is widespread recognition, interest and momentum to decarbonise or reduce GHG emissions at both sector level as well as the individual level.

Water underpins every sector of life, as does energy. The water sector, including water extraction, treatment, supply, and wastewater collection, treatment and recovery, has a critical role to play in decarbonisation along with other industries. Because of the ubiquitous nature and importance of the water sector for people, planet, and prosperity, like the energy sector, the lessons learnt by the energy sector to decarbonise can be applied to the water sector. The potential for decarbonisation in the water sector lies in reducing water demand; increasing sustainable water resources; water conservation and efficiency of use; energy efficient wastewater treatment and recovery for reuse.

Water’s paradigm shift

The water sector is in the middle of a paradigm shift from focusing on treatment and meeting discharge and supply regulations to a focus on integrated and sustainable water management to enable a circular water economy via water reuse, resource recovery, and system level planning and operation. While the sector has gone through different stages of such a revolution, from improving energy efficiency to recovering renewable energy and resources, it has lagged behind other industries such as the energy and transportation sectors in developing systematic pathways for decarbonisation and integration with other infrastructure systems.

The emerging ‘OneWater’ framework offers a holistic and integrated approach to consider all water resources from surface water, groundwater, stormwater, wastewater, and recycled water, as one way to achieve reliable, sustainable, and secure and resilient water systems. The goal is to create pathways for decarbonisation while building OneWater systems for the circular water economy, water resilience, and socio-economic equity.

Water sector decarbonisation methods, procedures and protocols are still at an embryonic stage

The water sector itself is a significant consumer of energy and materials in its roles of providing water for all uses and protecting water quality. It is estimated that about 4% of electricity consumption goes towards conveyance of water and its treatment and supply. It is also projected that the energy demand by the water sector will increase significantly as more marginal quality and scarce water resources are ‘tapped’ for water supply. So, it is imperative that the water sector pursues decarbonisation pathways aimed at reducing the energy footprint of water production, supply, and recovery, using fewer chemicals and materials for processing, and developing water conservation measures that reduce the overall carbon footprint for the same or higher socio-economic and environmental benefits.

Potential and pathways

Water sector decarbonisation methods, procedures, and protocols are still at an embryonic stage with respect to the widespread implementation needed to achieve the desired outcomes of a net zero circular water economy.

We responded to this gap by embarking on the first attempt to identify decarbonisation opportunities and pathways in the water sector, with the emphasis on the OneWater approach. The outcome of this attempt is the publication of the book Pathways to Water Sector Decarbonization, Carbon Capture and Utilization, published by IWA Publishing.

The book has chapter contributions from authors who bring global expertise and experience from academia, industry, and policy making. These authors have brought state-of-the-art pathways and directions for water sector decarbonisation with insights from other sectors, enabling processes and technologies, and addressing how to assess potential and realise this potential at an individual process level to the level of whole plant strategies.

As the intention is to mobilise the entire water sector to pursue decarbonisation, the book has been published as an open-source publication for researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to freely access the information and build more robust pathways and systems leading to implementations. As the leading and focused publisher for the water sector, IWA Publishing plays an essential role in transforming the water sector, and therefore, it is most appropriate for it to lead the way on the understanding of the state-of-the-art in decarbonisation by publishing this book.

A foundation for practices and solutions

The book begins with framework layouts on the state-of-the-art in water sector carbon footprints. Then it reviews and details different processes and technologies that enable decarbonisation, carbon capture and utilisation. The experts in each respective chapter offer deep insights on how the approach has been used to increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon footprints, recover resources, and capture and valorise GHGs while maintaining treatment goals. Lastly, the broader prospects for water sector decarbonisation in the context of policy-making, intelligent water systems, as well as case studies, are presented. Given this, the book can be a reference or textbook for undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers.

The editors and authors hope it will become an inspiration to develop practices and solutions that will drive innovation in the water sector for decarbonisation. In his foreword, Dr Kala Vairavamoorthy, IWA Executive Director, states: “This book can inspire the Global South. It combines the foundations, evidence and vision to support and stimulate practical progress.”

Dr Art Umble, Stantec senior vice president, wrote in his foreword: “Our time to implement circularity in the water industry to abate the impacts of climate change is running short… . In the final chapter, Dr Glen Daigger, of the University of Michigan, presents an outlook for the carbon-negative circular water economy with some aspirational thoughts and states “water management is a path, not a destination”.

We hope that the water community embraces decarbonisation and does so now. •

More information

Available as an Open Access ebook

ISBN13: 9781789061789

eISBN: 9781789061796