Water availability problems greatly affect many parts of Europe and represent a growing challenge all over the world. ‘Recent studies suggest the world may face a 40% water shortfall by 2030, threatening social and economic development’ (European Commission, 13th European Forum on Eco-innovation). However, examples show that with the right policies and technologies, this phenomenon can be improved to a large extent.
‘Water is an essential natural resource upon which all life depends. While 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, only a small fraction—some 0.01%—represents readily potable water’ (Hitachi Social Innovation). This must be carefully managed to ensure ‘water security’ for all.
Water pollution is a substantial threat. At least half the world’s population suffers from polluted water (Jones, 2009). Furthermore, ‘overexploitation and lack of clean water are putting ecosystems under extreme strain’ [European Commission, Future Brief: Innovation in the European water sector].
It is vital to bear in mind the significant role played by social innovation in many of the issues in this field. Environmental problems and facts are always linked in some way to social, economic and financial issues. We are going to present some of them here, with the aim of giving you a good insight into the issue. If you’re interested in participating and becoming more familiar with such initiatives, you are welcome to join our team! Why not check out the following examples that focus on some remarkable water management innovations?
Aquasafe is a real-time business intelligence platform for water systems developed through a partnership between two companies: Hidromod, a Portuguese SME specialised in modelling and IT, and Bentley, a global provider of software for infrastructure design, construction and operations. Together, they have created an application that enables full user oversight and management of water systems. This is useful to aid compliance with stringent regulations for water supply, treatment and quality, to guarantee water safety and maximise system efficiency, and to plan asset investment for ageing infrastructure.
It started in the electricity industry with smart grids and is now being applied to water distribution and waste management networks. Through this procedure, it is possible to understand what is happening and collect data.
As data becomes information, it can be used to improve the water system by enabling managers to minimise leakages, energy consumption (and CO2 emissions) and environmental disasters, e.g. from unexpected sewage overflow. This level of control ultimately forms part of the Smart Cities concept, where energy, transport and water are all optimally managed.
Aquasafe’s roles can be summarised as 1) physical infrastructure management, 2) pressure management (lower pressure means less leakage) and 3) active leakage detection (e.g. via tennis balls equipped with GPS). All these methods can contribute to savings of more than €210,000 per year. [13th European Forum on Eco-innovation, 2015].
Hitachi’s initiative in Indonesia:
‘To date, Hitachi has delivered some 550 water treatment plants, 2,800 sewage treatment facilities and 900 monitoring and control systems to locations across Japan. Building on this track record, Hitachi continues to deliver water systems that strengthen water infrastructures around the world.
‘Unfortunately, the high cost of seawater desalination systems, which produce drinking or industrial water from seawater by removing salt, has discouraged their widespread deployment.
‘In response, Hitachi has developed a seawater desalination system that mixes seawater with water reclaimed from the wastewater reuse process in order to dilute salt in the seawater before filtering it through the reverse-osmosis process. This method reduces pumping costs since the diluted seawater can be pumped through the filtering process at lower pressure.
‘Beyond this, Hitachi has applied proprietary AI technologies to analyse accumulated operational data and resolve clogging problems associated with reverse-osmosis filters, thereby achieving significant cost savings. Overall, a more than 30% reduction in power consumption was achieved compared to conventional seawater desalination plants, including an additional reduction of about 6% in the electricity needed for pumping.
‘Actually, Hitachi’s unique invention is based on the simple idea of using treated water to dilute the salt concentrations of seawater.’
Learn more about this initiative here.
According to surveys by the European Commission, the number of people living under water stress in Europe will rise from 28 million to 44 million by the 2070s (Alcamo et al., 2007). Nutrient pollution, leading to eutrophication, is already a widespread problem which occurs in about 30% of water bodies in 17 Member States (European Commission, 2012b).
‘EIP Water aims to stimulate creative and innovative solutions that contribute significantly to tackling water challenges at the European and global level, while stimulating sustainable economic growth and job creation. It intends foster collaboration in the water sector across the public and private sector, non-governmental organisations and the general public.
‘The Strategic Implementation Plan for EIP Water focuses on five thematic priority areas. Firstly, it gives importance to water re-use and recycling. Then, it provides information about water and wastewater treatment, including recovery of resources and the water-energy nexus. Moreover, it highlights flood and drought risk management and finally ecosystem services. Cross-cutting priority areas include water governance, decision support systems and monitoring and financing.’ (European Commission, 2012a)
Social Innovation in the Water Treatment Sector in the Amazon:
‘The AguaSociAL joint exchange programme (Coordinated in Italy) aims to strengthen research cooperation and knowledge sharing between Brazil and Europe within the water-related sciences. This venture will provide on-site training related to the rationale and benefits of water treatment techniques and technologies combined with social innovation approaches. AguaSociAL will seek to investigate and support community-driven development techniques and technologies for improving access to Water. This approach is linked to the Europe 2020 Strategy of “promoting social innovation for the most vulnerable populations, with a particular emphasis on the provision of innovative education and training”; AguaSociAL will facilitate activities that focus on the Amazonian Region. Research will be undertaken to identify existing and potential water treatment, reuse, recycling and sanitation technologies that are socially accepted and community owned. Such an approach should enable the linkage of scientific and traditional local knowledge. To this end, a joint-thread of research/training activities will be set up for researchers from Brazil participating in Training activities in the EU and EU researchers seconded to Brazil within Case Study Workshops. Scientific achievements are reached through various inter-connected training and field workshops in interaction with social actors, for the acquisition of new approaches to water treatment combined with social technologies, in a multi-disciplinary approach.’
Learn more about the programme here.
‘Blue Energy is the name of the innovative technology for electricity generation from the difference in salt content between salt water and fresh water. On the Afsluitdijk (closure dyke), an installation has been built for testing various technologies. This takes advantage of the proximity of both salt water and fresh water. The plan is to upscale to a demo installation and, at a later (commercial) stage, to expand capacity. In Katwijk, there are currently plans to construct a Blue Energy plant to improve the quality of the swimming water. The benefits are double: the generation of sustainable energy and clean swimming water.’
Find out more about the project and other water innovations in the Netherlands here.
‘The Directorate of Water of the Decentralized Administration of Crete under the auspices of Special Secretariat for Water of the Ministry of Reconstruction of Production, Environment and Energy developed the Water Management Plan of the Region of Crete.
‘The Water Management Plan was developed with the cooperation of academic and research institutions as well as water management institutions of the island and it is the first management plan in Greece that was not developed by environmental consultant companies.
‘The general goal of this project is the development of innovative methodologies for integrated water resources management of Crete that take into account several factors, such as the adaptation measures to climate change, the rational evaluation and prioritisation of the Program of Measures and of course the most important, innovative governance approaches to water management.’
Read more about the project here.
Sustainable water management is one of the most pressing global environmental challenges, as growing human populations abstract, pollute and divert water flows across the world, whilst patterns of precipitation shift in response to a changing climate. The result is a situation where some parts of the world are facing more severe floods, whilst others are experiencing acute water scarcity. Globally, freshwater is increasingly polluted, particularly in urban areas.
The DESSIN project promotes more sustainable, adaptive and cost-effective urban water management through the testing and promotion of innovations. The project goal is to demonstrate the benefits of innovative solutions to deal with water challenges with a focus on water quality and water scarcity. Moreover, it develops a methodology for the valuation of ecosystem services which will help catalyse for innovation uptake.
The project has two aims. Firstly, to explore new technology and management approaches to tackle some of the world’s most pressing water issues, and secondly, to use the ecosystem services concept to provide evidence of the benefit of new approaches in economic, social and environmental terms, in order to encourage their widespread adoption.
Learn more about the project here.
Citizens as water sensors: WeSenseIt
‘UNESCO-IHE envisions a world in which people manage their water and environmental resources in a sustainable manner, and in which all sectors of society, particularly the poor, can enjoy the benefits of basic services.’ Their innovations are often of a technological nature, but their adoption also has social, economic, environmental, governance, institutional and political dimensions. An important initiative by UNESCO-IHE is undoubtedly the Citizens as water sensors: WeSenseIt.
‘UNESCO-IHE and 13 partners from six European countries are developing new ways to capture data about the water cycle by actively involving citizens. These citizen observatories of water allow citizens and communities to become active participants in data capturing, information evaluation and decision making processes. Citizens capture hydrological data using Apps and physical sensors that can connect to portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. Relevant data is also extracted from the interactions of citizens on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.’
Learn more about ‘WeSenseIt’ here.
‘The current challenges on resource efficiency and performance improvement require the promotion of innovation within the water industry. Efficiency, Innovation and Knowledge are the key elements to improve performance and well-being in Europe. Water management serves social objectives. Societies manage water to improve public health and safety, support economic and recreational activities, and sustain a socially desired environment.’
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