Utilities, the oil and gas industry, and governments all use a lot of water. A recent report from Barclays Bank and the Columbia Water Center says that innovation by these organizations could help them become more efficient and sustainable, reducing their use of fresh water to better protect the valuable resource. According to the analysts, a focus on water management best practices could ultimately benefit both the environment and a company’s bottom line.
The report, which was released to coincide with the 2017 United Nations World Water Day in March, explores wastewater reuse or recycling. According to the report, companies that implement sustainable water practices — including water reuse and building efficient infrastructure — will help decrease freshwater scarcity and improve water quality issues.
Zachary Sadow, energy equity research analyst at Barclays, said:
Water scarcity is an enormous and undeniable challenge for both society and the environment, but also presents an opportunity for sustainable investment. […] The water challenge report demonstrates the crucial need for investment in water-related technologies and infrastructure that enable oil and gas operators, the utility industry and governments to treat wastewater effectively as a resource. Ultimately, the companies that can reduce freshwater usage and costs will be best positioned for an uncertain water future.
Policy and Economics
According to analysts, the oil and gas industries in the United States could follow the lead of Canada, which mandates water reuse and limits acquisition of fresh water for oil sands operations.
Government-led research and development could help provide new water technologies and bolster private sector investment and initiatives. Analysts advocate government support to help smaller companies adopt water-wise practices. The government could also play a key role in water management by enforcing and standardizing water reporting across industries.
According to the report, innovation in both the power and water utility sectors is driven by policy and economics. Despite “an uncertain regulatory future,” Barclays expects that utilities that:
[…] incorporate water risk planning into their strategic planning and engage in integrated water resources management will be better prepared for unforeseen water supply shocks.
These firms can become “water stewards” through adoption of sustainable technologies and practices that address both water scarcity and quality.
These industries use less water than others, agriculture in particular. Still, electric utilities withdraw and return large amount of fresh water into the environment, which can be a significant challenge for areas facing water stress. The analysts suggest utilities start using water from alternative sources, such as from desalinated brackish groundwater or seawater or from recycled wastewater.
Freshwater Resources and Alternatives
Thermoelectric plants predominantly use surface water for cooling — only about 0.5 percent of the water for cooling is sourced from groundwater supplies. Introducing dry cooling technologies in plants and using reclaimed water could protect rivers and streams as well as groundwater.
Existing technologies can help energy companies meet or reduce water use targets by providing them with alternative water sources. These include desalination, recycling effluent, indirect and direct potable water reuse, advanced metering, and smart grid infrastructure and leak detection technologies.
Companies adopting more stringent water management practices also protect their own ability to source water for operations when and if supplies become scarce.
Jes Staley, chief executive officer, Barclays, told Ethical Corporation:
Oil and gas companies, as well as power and water utilities, are ideally placed not only to be more efficient users of water but also to be pioneers in finding alternative water sources and introducing innovative technologies to counter wastage.
Barclays analysts completed the report with scientists from the Columbia Water Center. It is the second publication in the Impact Series from the Barclays Social Innovation Facility, which explores “the social impact of economic, demographic and disruptive changes affecting markets, sectors and society at large.”
The full report — “The Water Challenge: Preserving a Global Resource” — is available from Barclays.
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