Opinion

Green solutions are critical for sustainable water management in India

Kim Jensen | Updated on November 03, 2020 Published on November 03, 2020

Water resources together with climate is probably the biggest challenge that humanity is facing right now   -  THE HINDU

Integrating intelligent technologies in water solutions will go a long way in conserving this precious resource

The somewhat unregulated use of water globally coupled with the impact of climate change has led us to a precarious situation and this has moved water to the forefront in the global agenda. In addition the Covid-19 pandemic has also proved to be a wake-up call for many countries.

Any crisis, no matter how overwhelming, offers an unique opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn. The current environment has forced us to relook at the way we consume natural resources, including water. There is an increasing realisation to act responsibly and adapt sustainable measures and solutions across the board.

Water resources together with climate is probably the biggest challenge that humanity is facing right now. When it comes to water issues, it can either be due to its scarcity, excess or pollution and these challenges are only going to increase. In some parts of the world, like India, it is already a substantial challenge.

As per the United Nations ‘poor water infrastructure is a greater risk than the coronavirus’. With the increased focus on sanitisation and hygiene during the pandemic, water consumption has increased as well. With already 600 million Indians facing water shortages and 160 million people not having access to clean drinking water, this problem will have dire consequences if not addressed swiftly. Efficient water management needs to be dovetailed as a critical agenda for post Covid-19 reform. It will be of utmost importance for everyone to share best practices and adapt sustainable technological solutions.

Impact of the water-energy nexus on economy

Water and energy are intrinsically connected resources and their deficiency or exploitation has large scale implications on the overall economy. An improvement in water supply or effective water management will have a direct positive impact on the overall growth of the country. Similarly, the International Energy Outlook has identified ‘energy consumption’ as one of the top three parameters associated with economic growth.

For example, a dissection of the role of water and energy on Denmark’s overall economy can explain the impact of these resources. With an ambitious green vision and a holistic approach, the country has been able to decouple its economic growth from energy consumption.

In the last 40 years, the Danish GDP has grown by 90 per cent while simultaneously reducing water consumption by 42 per cent. With a keen understanding of the resource and its scarcity, water was conserved with the help of new technology driven innovations. The water-energy nexus is critical because 40 per cent of all the water costs are related to energy and that means energy efficient water solutions are really important.

Over the years, India has strengthened its sustainability vision which has helped the country make significant progress to address the situation on ground. Timely adoption of new and sustainable solutions for water management will further provide the push that it needs to achieve this vision.

Need for sustainable measures

The focus on sustainability needs to be at the centre of progressive water policies and initiatives. Sustainable water management will ensure that present water requirements or challenges are addressed in an adequate manner without compromising the water security of the future generations. Subsequently, this will also play a positive role in reviving the economy.

It is heartening to see that the Indian government has undertaken several initiatives in this direction, including the ‘Jal Jeevan Mission scheme’ which focuses on building a better water infrastructure for the nation.

According to the World Bank, current investments in the water infrastructure must be tripled in order to provide continued accessibility. A rejuvenated focus on sustainability will further help the Jal Shakti Ministry accelerate water conservation and address other challenges. A combination of smart sustainable technologies, global collaborations and public-private partnerships are essential for such initiatives to be successful.

Intelligent technologies to the rescue

We are witnessing industries embracing digital transformation and integrating intelligent technologies that allow for seamless operations more rapidly during this pandemic. As technology changes lives and opens newer avenues to efficiencies, it is important that it is integrated into the water sector as well. There is going to be an increased dependency on cutting-edge technologies to provide actionable insights and solutions to the world’s water problems. Intelligent water solutions are expected to become a mainstay in the post pandemic world and its successful adoption has already witnessed positive implications.

These solutions can be used in urban areas to avoid multiple pressing problems. In metropolitan cities like Bengaluru, approximately 360 million litres of water is wasted every day due to water leakage in the pipelines.

Intelligent solutions with a demand driven distribution-based approach can use sensors in the pipelines to regulate and manage water pressure. The real time data collected from these sensors can be used to create actionable insights on speed, pressure and performance among others. These insights can be later used to derive consumption patterns, improve pressure management and avoid leakages. Investments in water infrastructure need to be accompanied by smart technological investments in areas such as how to conserve water in our water networks.

Access to consistent and regular water supply is an issue across many farming communities given the lack of networks and connectivity. This can be addressed by focusing on smart ways of bringing water to farmers through decentralised water networks that operate on renewable energy. For example, the ideal solution for rural India is solar driven off grid solutions, where they can both be ways to get the water, to treat the water and to safely distribute the water.

Considering India’s tropical climate, solar solutions can be used in these areas to improve water supply. Their energy efficient nature will also improve water savings while ensuring cost and operational efficiency.

The Government of India has been making positive strides in this direction through the PM-KUSUM scheme. This will further enable large scale adoption of the solar pumps while providing the farmers additional incentives and subsidies.

Drinking water is another challenge ailing rural India. With many lacking access to drinking water and with groundwater levels depleting rapidly, there is a discerning need to explore alternate sources of water. Surface water has emerged as an alternative with immense potential. Surface water can be treated using disinfection technologies to remove impurities. This potable water can be further distributed to remote locations with the help of decentralised water networks and smart water ATMs. However, a shift in mindset towards consuming treated water is required to witness successful adoption of these solutions.

These are just a few examples of specific and tangible technology centric solutions that can address the growing water challenges in India. Intelligent and green technology can play an important role in providing new solutions to existing problems.

For our water

Increasing urbanisation and our modern way of living place a heavy demand on the water supply. On top of this a combination of water contamination, leakages and over-consumption also challenges our access to safe and clean water. The world needs new ways to better utilise its limited resources. With intelligent solutions, we can make a change. Just by switching to innovative and energy-efficient solutions we can save over 2 billion of our freshwater supplies.

It’s time for a shift in mindset across all levels of society: from politics and industries, to cities and the people living within them. Apart from progressive policies and intelligent technologies, collaboration and partnerships are critical to the success of sustainable water management. This highlights the importance of the UN’s SDG 17 that focuses on sustainable development through global partnerships. Because after all, the water belongs to all of us. We need to care “For Our Water”.

The writer is Group Senior Vice-President and Regional Managing Director, Grundfos Asia Pacific Region

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Published on November 03, 2020
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