Economic View

On infrastructure, technology and renewable energy to meet water demand 

What is being done to meet Egypt’s rising demand for potable water?

KARIM MADWAR: There are some common challenges, including government budget constraints and shifts in priority spending, that are causing a change in the funding models for infrastructure projects in Egypt and other emerging markets. In Egypt investment in water infrastructure has become a national priority, which is reflected in the mega desalination plants that have recently been launched, with some now fully operational and others partially, such as Al Yosr and Al Galala Egypt. These projects utilise the latest technology, adding capacities ranging between 80,000 cu metres and 150,000 cu metres per day, in turn allowing these projects to serve millions of inhabitants. Such investment enables Egypt to manage rising demand for potable water across all levels and changes the water prospectus of the country, thereby motivating more investors to launch and back new projects that require strong water infrastructure, such as industrial projects, hotels and hospitals. 

Private sector investment in water infrastructure is also a factor that needs to be accounted for since it can play a bigger role in easing pressure on the government by accommodating some of the rising demand. Public-private partnerships could drive new opportunities in 2019 and beyond. We have seen successful experiences in power, but there is still limited experience in water and wastewater concessions, which means there are vast opportunities to explore. 

What role can technology play in boosting efficient water usage?

MADWAR: Water is a finite but critical resource, and technology is key in trying to optimise its usage to accommodate rising demand due to industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth. However, treating water is a serious activity where there is no room for mistakes, especially when dealing with generating water for potable use. This means that utilising new technology must always be done with caution and only after achieving many safety milestones.

This is why reverse osmosis (RO) technology remains favourable, while other new technologies such as thermal desalination and hybrid are still gaining traction. There is opportunity for new technology to make RO more productive, more affordable and less energy consuming. For instance, the bulk of water use worldwide is associated with agriculture, so if the right technology is used in this particular sector, a lot of water could be saved and reused for other priority areas. Wastewater recycling and reuse is key here, and there are many innovative and sustainable technologies being endorsed. 

The optimisation of existing networks is as important to a country like Egypt as developing new mega water projects that can reduce the use of water, minimise wastewater and guarantee more efficient circulation of water within networks. This is especially true since there will eventually be more appetite for refurbishments and extensions than greenfield projects, as developers and utility providers will try to generate more out of existing assets. Such optimisation will require more efficient solutions and systems, and at the core of both is technology.  

How can water be used more efficiently in power generation? 

MADWAR: The water-energy nexus is one of the biggest global issues. To make a tangible difference there must be a coordinated suite of policy measures to encourage governments and businesses to embrace the potential offered by energy efficiency in the water industry. The fact is, the technology to achieve energy neutrality across the whole water cycle exists; however, the majority of the technologies currently being used in water projects do not allow for independent gearing of production quantities or they are not being deployed in the right way. 

For instance, Denmark succeeded in achieving complete energy neutrality across the whole water cycle for a catchment area of 200,000 people. This was partly achieved through energy efficiency measures, which used advanced process optimisation and sensors linked to variable speed drives. However, it has also come from embracing the potential to turn wastewater plants from major energy consumers into energy generators. 
The launch of renewable businesses by global water solution providers, like Metito, shows how international companies are diversifying their service offerings to support progressive energy needs. There is still much more to do, but the commercialisation of renewable energy sources makes this trend towards decoupling of power and water assets more attainable, and we expect to see more water projects integrating solar and wind power in the future.