Water is life.
It is essential to the production of electricity and other energy, to agriculture and industrialization, to comfort and progress.
But in a world of climate change and population growth, a world in which natural and manmade disasters demand better, smarter and more sustainable technologies, the availability of water and energy will determine the future of life itself.
Will there be enough?
As we face this monumental question, government regulators, industry leaders and citizens of the world are beginning to think differently. Energy and water systems have historically been developed, managed and regulated independently and solutions have been considered separately.
Today, there is a growing understanding of the natural nexus between water and energy. To find sustainable solutions, we must start with the basics. We all know the price of a gallon of gas, and we track this cost daily.
But what is a gallon of water worth?
"Most people don't have a common tendency to place a value on water," Xylem President and CEO Patrick Decker said. "This is becoming more and more understandable by our policy and thought leaders around the world that some of the biggest demands on the environment in terms of energy production are the demands placed on water and the scarcity of water.
"In many areas where oil is the most abundant, water is the most scarce. It is simply not going to be sustainable until we have as much of a focus and debate around the value of water—whether that be sources of clean water, the climate of the energy cycle or management of the wastewater."
An integrated, strategic approach can guide technology research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D) to address regional water-energy issues and also make national and global impacts, according to a 2014 report from the Department of Energy ("The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities").
The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050 two-thirds of the nearly 10 billion people on Earth will live in developed cities, which will create great pressure on global energy and water resources.
In the Middle East, produced water from oil and gas operations wastes more than 73 million barrels per day. In regions characterized by unconventional production of oil, such as tight oil and oil sands, a single well can require up to 5 million gallons of water.
"This is clearly not sustainable," Decker said. "We need resilience for water infrastructure. Water variability is resulting in a rising economic risk for communities around the world. Floods disrupt power plants, oil refineries and other critical energy infrastructure. Managing the movement of water around energy facilities during these times is crucial for maintaining resilience. In arid environments, there are some no-regret moves that can immediately be made, such as water reuse. These are common in the Middle East, Singapore, Australia and the U.S. Reuse can help close the gap between supply and demand."
How Current Trends Affect the GCC
Population growth, surging demand, energy needed for desalination and per capita consumption patterns will all impact the future of water security in the GCC.
"It is time to ask ourselves if the 'business as usual' model of managing our water resources will suffice," said H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General, Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD), UAE.
"As we all know, our population in this region is expanding exponentially," she said. "According to the United Nations development program, this region is foreseen to almost double its population from its current 350 million to around 600 million in 2050. This population increase will not only directly impact water consumption, but it will also indirectly impact water consumption with respect to its demand on goods, services and food. Against this trend of surging demand, the region's freshwater supply is declining rapidly. In some areas, our aquifers are declining at an unsustainable pace due to high extraction rates, but we are still not able to meet the current demand."
To fill the gap, the UAE and the nations bordering the Arabian Gulf have invested heavily in desalination. In fact, those countries account for 60 percent of all global desalination capacity. Desalination is energy intensive and the growing dependence on this technology has contributed to the surge in domestic energy use.
The Role of Technology
H.E. Mohammed Bin Jarsh, Managing Director, Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company (ADWEC), UAE said energy sustaining partners should realize the need for less stringent thinking in terms of technology.
"The need for sustainability puts the UAE at the forefront as the most in need of taking action," His Excellency Bin Jarsh said. "We sometimes burn fuel to produce water. Historically in the UAE, combined cycle with desalination is thought to be the most economical and reliable way of producing water and electricity. Now this formula is being challenged as a result of the need to be sustainable and make water production at an economical value for everyone. The impact of that challenge creates the need for supported development of pretreatments. In the past we have dictated technologies for production and development in the UAE. Now there is a need to be technology neutral going forward."