It was only a couple of years ago that water shortages were the nation’s primary environmental concern – but have all our long-term water supply issues been resolved? We asked MICHAEL SHAW from Siemens for an assessment.
How quickly we forget! Wind back the clock two or three years and we were in the middle of one of our greatest droughts. I remember standing in the shower with a bucket to capture some of the runoff to water my courtyard plants.
A shortage of water affected our industries, our productivity and our lifestyle. We invested time, effort and money to come up with solutions – a mix of water technology innovation and education for behavioural change.
But now that it’s raining, should we forget about water and just focus on the next thing, say, energy efficiency? What happens when the inevitable drought descends on us again?
Ultimately, what we learned during the long drought is that cities, and buildings in particular, consume and waste massive amounts of water. They need smart solutions for water, energy, health, security, safety, productivity, environment and mobility.
If we do nothing during times when water is plentiful, then water will again become scarce and we could be caught with our pants down looking for urgent solutions.
Desalination plants are a good insurance policy but they should not be looked at in isolation. City buildings and facilities must play a major part by continuing to invest in technologies that tackle long-term solutions.
Siemens has placed such a high importance on cities that we recently announced a new global sector called Cities and Infrastructure.
Already we are seeing forward-thinking organisations combining their energy efficiency programs with similar water efficiency solutions. They recognise that taking a holistic approach to sustainability has long-term benefits for their facilities, but more broadly for the cities in which they operate.
INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY IS THE KEY
Water conservation is critical to our survival, but we need innovation to achieve what we call ‘water security’, i.e. a plentiful, clean water supply that isn’t totally reliant on rainfall.
Today, 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities but the United Nations predicts that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. In Australia, that figure is already at 69 percent (ABS). And our world population is expected to increase from six billion to nine billion in the next 20 years, putting even more pressure on cities to provide sustainable infrastructure.
The attraction of cities is understandable. Better job opportunities and living conditions, access to healthcare and education… and a clean, reliable water source.
So appealing are cities that in China each year an additional 13 million people move from the countryside to cities. Cities accommodating as many as 170 million people are conceivable in China.
How do we ensure a quality water supply for our growing cities? Technology is at the heart of the solution because a diverse supply mix of source water will be required to meet Australia’s urban demands going forward, including surface water, groundwater, desalinated water, recycled water and stormwater.
However, we also need a continued demand for commercial applications of water technologies. We need an attitude of prevention and preparation rather than treatment of a chronic condition.
Earlier this year, we [Siemens] held Australia’s only registered World Water Day event at our headquarters in Bayswater, Victoria. The event attracted heads of water authorities and other influential stakeholders in the water industry.
The day highlighted our need to innovate in order to provide a reliable water source that satisfies industries’ productivity requirements and our way of life.
WHAT CAN BE DONE NOW?
For cities to make a positive impact on the amount of water we use, the first step is knowing how much water a city consumes by measuring and monitoring office buildings, manufacturing plants, facilities, open spaces and gardens.
Facility managers need to have access to sophisticated measuring and monitoring programs (like HydroShare – see editorial below). These programs track how much water a facility is using on a daily basis, where that water is used and where it ends up.
Typically, this is done by strategically installing ultrasonic flow meters on water mains, wastewater and stormwater plumbing, and data loggers linked to the client’s and water utility’s computers. In some cases, this can be tied into a building management system.
Then it’s possible to gauge the amount of water the building consumes and where to start making adjustments.
For instance, a discrepancy between how much water enters and leaves a building – or a high nighttime reading when occupants have gone home for the day could – could point to a leak.
Excessive water use can also highlight inefficient manufacturing processes that need rectification.
An audit should also make practical water saving recommendations, like fitting flow restrictors in restrooms, kitchens and laundries to limit the water flow from, say, 15 litres per minute to six. Other measures might include the use of 3/6 litre flush toilets, waterless urinals, low-flow taps and showerheads, even moisture detectors on automatic irrigation systems.
Alternative water sources can be identified, such as methods for capturing and moving stormwater from roofs and carparks for use in toilet flushing, equipment and vehicle washing, irrigation, water features, etc. Huge savings can be made.
At Siemens, we believe that facility managers, through implementing water saving technologies in their buildings, can be extremely influential in ensuring that Australia features:
- constant water availability to support Australia’s growth
- the world’s highest quality water
- the world’s best practices in farming and irrigation, and
- restored natural inland water resources.
Michael Shaw is vice president, Industry Sector, Building Technologies, for Siemens Ltd, a position he has held since mid-2009. The Building Technologies portfolio includes security, building automation, energy efficiency and low-voltage products and solutions. Shaw began his career at Siemens in 1993 as a graduate after completing a Bachelor of Commerce at The University of Melbourne. He is married with a seven-year-old son.