The critical link between water and power

The interplay between water and energy — such as is evident in the Kariba Dam’s hydroelectric capacity of around 6 400 GW·h a year — can help to alleviate poverty. (STR New/Reuters)

The interplay between water and energy — such as is evident in the Kariba Dam’s hydroelectric capacity of around 6 400 GW·h a year — can help to alleviate poverty. (STR New/Reuters)

Marking Water Week in March, both the UN World Water Development Report 2014 and the African Development Bank (AfDB) highlighted the crucial role water plays in power generation, and therefore, in overall development.

The UN noted that water and energy are closely interconnected and highly interdependent, with economic development dependent on both. “Choices made and actions taken in one domain can greatly affect the other, positively or negatively. Trade-offs need to be managed to limit negative impacts and foster opportunities for synergy,” the UN said.

“Water and energy have crucial impacts on poverty alleviation, not only directly with a number of the millennium development goals (MDG) depending on major improvements in access to water, sanitation, power and energy sources, but also indirectly because water and energy can be binding constraints on economic growth — the ultimate hope for widespread poverty reduction,” the UN said.

Irina Bokova, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation, said in the foreword to the UN World Water Development Report 2014, which was released on March 21: “The fundamental right to fresh water is not exercised by some 3.5-billion women and men — who often also lack access to reliable energy, especially electricity.”

The report also estimates that 2.5-billion people do not have access to improved sanitation and more than 1.3-billion people still lack access to electricity.

Bokova says: “As the 2013 International Year for Water Co-operation showed, there is enough water on earth — we need to manage it better together.

“This challenge is becoming steeper as demands increase, especially in emerging economies, where agriculture, industry and urban development are evolving quickly. We must find sustainable ways to ensure access to quality fresh water and energy for all.

“Rising pressure on resources calls for new production and consumption models. We need to better understand the connections between water and energy, because choices made in one area impact — positively or negatively — the other.”

The demand for water

Forecasting that the global population will need 40% more water by 2030 and 70% more energy by 2035, the report states that water supplies are threatened by growing demand for energy and food, as well as water contamination, pollution and climate change.

The report predicts that global water demand in terms of water withdrawals will increase by some 55% by 2050, mainly because of growing demands from manufacturing (400%), thermal electricity generation (140%) and domestic use (130%). As a result, fresh water availability will become increasingly strained, and more than 40% of the global population will be living in areas of severe water stress through 2050.

The report notes: “There is clear evidence that groundwater supplies are diminishing, with an estimated 20% of the world’s aquifers being over-exploited, some critically so.” The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the energy sector already accounts for about 15% of the world’s total water use. It says in some regions, water constraints are already affecting the reliability of existing power operations and they will introduce additional costs.

IEA analysis shows that expanding power generation and biofuels output underpin an 85% increase in the amount consumed (the volume of water that is not returned to its source after use) through to 2035.

Africa and its resources

Also highlighting the water-power link, the AfDB noted: “The African continent has the lowest electrification rate of all regions. It is estimated that only 43% of the population has access to electricity, compared with 77% in the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa the ratio is much lower, at 32% and only 18% in rural areas.

“Moreover, even when modern energy is available, it is expensive and unreliable. Africa is endowed with important energy resources, including important exploitable hydropower capacity, yet only about 8% of its hydropower potential has been harnessed.

“Hydropower has many advantages: it is readily available and produces cleaner electricity than other traditional resources such as coal and oil; it is also highly versatile and can be used to meet national electricity grid requirements, rural electrification and industrial power needs.

“Eastern, southern, central and parts of western Africa have many permanent rivers providing excellent opportunities for hydropower development.”

The AfDB says: “the flashpoint from the water-energy nexus indicates the need to address inequities, share the resources more widely and use them more efficiently. This requires the development of policies and cross-cutting frameworks that bridge sectors and ministries, leading the way to energy security and sustainable water use in a green economy.

“Particular attention is being paid to identifying best practices that can make a water- and energy-efficient green industry a reality.”

Among the AfDB’s water initiatives are the African Water Facility, a multilateral fund administered by the AfDB, which supports the optimisation of energy production, especially through multi-purpose dam projects such as those in the Songwe River Basin in Malawi and Tanzania, Baro-Akobo-Sobat in the Nile Basin, and the proposed reoptimisation and reoperation of the Akosombo and Kpong dams in Ghana which will allow for the reuse of water and incorporation of hydroelectric components, so that “every drop is used to bring multiple benefits”.

SA moves to tackle water challenges

As part of the national infrastructure development plan, co-ordinated under the National Planning Commission (NPC) and the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordination Commission (PICC), the South African government has identified 18 strategic integrated projects (SIPs) that will unlock growth for the economy and address the country’s development needs.

Water plays a crucial role in a number of these projects, which include: SIP 1 — Unlocking the northern mineral belt with the Waterberg as a catalyst. This involves, among others, the construction and installation 70km of water pipelines to supply water from a reservoir to local coal mines.

SIP 3 — South to Eastern node and corridor development, which includes the development of a new dam at Mzimvubu with irrigation systems.

SIP 4 — Unlocking the economic opportunities in North West Province by accelerating investments in bulk water, water treatment and transmission infrastructure.

SIP 6 — Integrated municipal infrastructure project, which involves addressing all the maintenance backlogs and upgrades required in water and sanitation bulk infrastructure.

SIP 11 — Agri-logistics and rural infrastructure: Improve investment in agricultural and rural infrastructure that supports expansion of production and employment, and irrigation schemes to poor areas.

SIP 17 — Regional integration for African co-operation and development. SIP 18 — Water and sanitation infrastructure.

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