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Some 2.5 billion people around the world will move from rural areas to cities by 2050, requiring those cities to have more wastewater treatment capacity. Desalination and wastewater reuse are expected to become more popular.

Wastewater reuse and desalination may become more popular

In 2023, drought, urbanization, and higher suburban populations will challenge the water sector as it struggles to meet demand. We predict that these challenges will drive interest in decentralization and nontraditional water sources, especially from wastewater reuse and desalination. Although funding gaps will remain, newer financing models will increasingly be used to fill them.

Demographics Affect the Water Sector

Globally, urbanization will continue in 2023. An additional 2.5 billion people from rural areas will migrate to cities by 2050 to find opportunity and flee conflict, poverty, and climate change.

Urban utilities with centralized systems will need additional wastewater treatment capacity. Innovative treatment solutions like Fluence’s SUBRE modules can help plants meet higher demands without new construction. The membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) modules are lowered into existing chambers, upgrading traditional treatment to be more effective and energy-efficient.

Meanwhile in the United States, suburban areas are still reeling from a pandemic population boom. The more sprawling suburbs grow, the less attractive centralized systems become. Long pipelines to distant plants are expensive to construct, often accounting for more than half of capital expenditures, and maintenance can be an ever-increasing burden.

Decentralized treatment handles the load with an array of smaller plants strategically installed at point of need. When wastewater is treated to nonpotable standards in the neighborhood, high-quality effluent is available for applications like landscaping irrigation and car washing.

Wastewater reuse and decentralized treatment will require decision-makers to think differently about centralized models, but all of the technology required is already here. For instance, Fluence’s modular Aspiral™ MABR wastewater treatment units and packaged plants are ideal for flexible scaling in decentralized distributed systems.

Desalination Is for More Than Seawater

The desalination market is expected to expand by more than $8 billion between 2023 and 2027, with renewable power adoption, membrane technology, and energy-recovery advances driving market growth.

Naturally, coastal areas and islands have an endless supply of water for desalination, but it isn’t as well-known that brackish aquifers in the U.S., many far inland, hold 800 times more water than the entire nation pumps every year. In fact, brackish water is much less expensive to desalinate than seawater. Some suggest small-scale desalination might even save the West from its megadrought. Modular reverse osmosis desalination units, like Fluence’s NIROBOX™, can treat brackish water to extend a lifeline far inland.

Updated Financing Structures

In the U.S., the bipartisan infrastructure law is releasing a flood of capital for water sector infrastructure. Unfortunately, the funding is dwarfed by need. Many regions will face difficulties accessing capital and the resources to maintain and operate plants.

Build-own-operate and build-own-operate-transfer financing structures have evolved to address these growing realities. Specialized water companies like Fluence can provide water assets and attend to their long-term operations and maintenance (O&M). Our Water Management Services puts compliance and O&M into the hands of experts, freeing clients from the increasing complexity of running a water treatment system.

While 2023 will present challenges, Fluence has the equipment, the experience, and the financing options to make updated water sector infrastructure a reality. Reach out to our experts to chart your course to 2024 and beyond.

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