What if urban water networks could become a resource of renewable energy?

What if urban water networks could become a resource of renewable energy?

Water is a source of life… and energy. In this post, we are addressing the water-energy nexus in the urban context, where both resources are essential and at the same time critical with an unexorable increase in the demand due to demographic movements and economic growth. Traditional hidrological planning policies have been based on the capacity to regulate and increase water availability. This approach has led to the gradual depletion of the resource with over-exploited aquifers, loss of quality of the water supplied, deterioration of aquatic ecosysems or the appearance of conflicts between users. In parallel, we face the effects derived from climate change, which is undoubtedly a water crisis and a threat multiplier: floods, storms and droughts are becoming more frequent and extreme, and these trends are projected to increase as the climate continues to change. Furthermore, much of the water infrastructure in the developed world is now over 50 years old and needs to be replaced, improved or repaired. Extreme temperatures and aging infrastructure will aggravate the problem of water leaks and confirm the need to control and reduce leaks in drinking water networks.

In general, all these pressures on the urban water cycle imply an increase in energy consumption and operating costs. However, to date, energy is rarely mentioned in urban water planning strategies. In this way, cities face the continuous challenge of providing urban water services without increasing the impact on the environment. This, together with the perennial debate over whether water should be a “luxury good” or a “social good accessible to all”, could place water in the focus of the biggest geopolitical conflict of the 21st century.

This current context of water scarcity and climate emergency demands solutions to increase the cities resilience. In addition, Europe aims to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and municipalities will clearly play a fundamental role in this transition. The water sector can become a leader in providing the kind of green infrastructure, services and jobs needed to enable climate change mitigation and adaptation.

In CARTIF we are working on the European LIFE NEXUS project that proposes a paradigm shift by considering the urban water cycle as a source of renewable energy. Throughout the cycle there are locations with excess energy where it is necessary to adapt the flow or pressure to the supply conditions. Within the framework of the project, we are analyzing the potential of mini-hydropower systems to recover the unexploited energy at these sites where energy is being dissipated.

Our project addresses two complementary objectives. On the one hand, we have carried out the first European inventory of the mini-hydropower potential in European cities, which is already available through the project website and currently houses data from 101 locations. On the other hand, we seek to identify what type of technology is ideal for urban sites where the electricity generation capacity is usually less than 100 kW. Among the different systems available, the Pump as Turbine (PaT) technology has been selected and the novel integration of a PaT with a battery storage is being carried out to optimize the energy generation and use. The new prototype will be fully operational by the end of 2021 at the Drinking Water Treatment Plant (DWTP) of León in Spain. One of the objectives of the project will be to validate this innovative technology, obtain information on its real performance and analyze its viability. Specificallly, it is expected to have a generation of 252 MWh per year of renewable electricity and a 100% in GHG emisisons from th DWTP, which means avoiding the emission of 163 tons of CO2 equiv per year.

In this way, life nexus does its particular bit in the clean energy transition. Learn more about the project on its website, latest news, ad if you have data on potential locations o r existing facilities, do not hesitate a become a Follower of the project*.

*We encourage you to participate, since the most promising Folloers will receive in a later phase of the project a personalized report with the feasabilityof the technology.

Smart, something more than your mobile phone

Smart, something more than your mobile phone

The SMART term has become part of our life. Thus, if we introduce it in Google about 1.8 million entries appear, which gives us an idea of how widespread it is. Now, not only phones are smart, we also find this term applied to watches, televisions, homes, cars or cities.

It is an emerging concept and its meaning is subject to constant revision. For example, for new products that are released to the market, the word Smart is related to advanced technologies. So it is now possible to answer calls or check whatsapp in a smartwatch. However, in more global areas such as cities, the term “Smart City” is closely linked to sustainability. As Miguel Ángel García Fuentes comments in his recent blog, a smart city is sustainable and efficient in its ecosystem. CARTIF is promoting these processes of urban regeneration in 16 cities, through our R2CITIES, CITyFiED, REMOURBAN and mySMARTLife projects, which include interventions in the fields of energy, mobility or Information and Communication Technologies.

Hospitals are like small towns. As an example, a medium-sized health center such as the Hospital Universitario Río Hortega in Valladolid receives more than 250,000 consultations per year or 25,000 admissions. Hospitals are also large consumers of natural resources (water and energy) and large generators of waste. As illustrative data, a medium-sized hospital consumes per year as much electricity as the city of Soria, generates around 9.000 tons of CO2, the equivalent of 7.000 cars and if we talk about waste, the figures increase to 3 million kg per year. In this way, the health sector contributes significantly to climate change (another term we are increasingly familiar with).

During the last 2 years, CARTIF has been deploying this Smart concept in the healthcare sector through the SMART Hospital project, funded by the European Commission’s LIFE call. The document “Healthy Hospitals Healthy Planet Healthy People. Addressing climate change in health care settings” identifies the 7 key elements of a sustainable hospital: energy efficiency, green building design, alternative energy generation, transportation, food, waste and water. Among these elements, LIFE Smart Hospital project has selected Energy Efficiency, Water and Waste. Thus, the demonstrative experience that is being carried out at the Hospital Universitario Río Hortega includes the application of best practices and available technologies and customized training in each of these three axes.

In the energy axis the actions that we have already implemented include the optimization of boilers, air conditioning and ventilation of the operating rooms, or improvements in lighting. In the water axis, we have identified the streams that were being discharged to the public sewage system without being sufficiently contaminated and different measures for their reuse were proposed. In this way, reject from the water plant of the hemodialysis unit has been taken to hospital cisterns. In addition, the outlet water from the evaporative panels has been recirculated to the toilet flushing network. Just as in the two previous axes, the concept “Smart” has meant optimizing engines, valves or pumps, in the case of waste, the concept involves people. Thus, training has been given to the 2,500 hospital workers for the proper classification, segregation and collection of waste.

Throughout the current year, we will quantify the effectiveness of measures implemented, not only in terms of saved kWh, liters of water, kg of waste or euros, but also in the form of environmental indicators such as carbon footprint or water footprint. In addition, we will publish a “Manual on sustainability in hospitals” that includes all these actions and favors the replication of the Smart Hospital project to other hospitals, at national and international level.

It is a very promising initiative and is attracting a great interest among the different stakeholders involved. Thus in October 2015, the project received the second prize of the OMARS awards, as the second best action in environmental sustainability in Spanish hospitals.

From CARTIF we encourage other hospitals and large areas (airports, supermarkets, shopping centers, thematic parks, etc.) to apply this “Smart” concept, making a smart use of its resources and thus achieve technical, economic and environmental improvements for a more sustainable future.

How much money do you spend opening the water tap?

How much money do you spend opening the water tap?

Water is the most abundant substance in the human body as much as on Earth and is also essential for the survival of all known forms of life.

And despite its importance, every day more voices warn of the dangers looming on such a “precious element.” For example, the World Economic Forum met last January in Mount Davos (Switzerland) has placed the water crisis as the third overall risk over the next 18 months … and it will be the first risk to the world in a 10-year horizon.

Which are the causes that are positioning the water in this top ranking ahead of other potential problems such as oil or turf wars? Climate change, droughts, floods, population growth or demographic changes are some of the challenges around water. In addition, because of its close relation to agriculture, the idea of a “water war” breaking out in Africa, the Middle East or Asia is increasingly seen as a real possibility to the extent that these governments need to feed their populations.

To this long list of long-range dangers, today we want to draw your attention to a closest one: the lack of individual knowledge.

You certainly know the price of 1L of gasoline, but do you know what you pay for 1 L of water? First, you need to know that in Spain water supply is under municipal jurisdiction and each local authority sets its own prices and tariff structures. On average, in our country we pay 1.83 € per 1000 L of drinking water supplied to our households. Translated into usual domestic chores, a five-minute shower costs about 0.10 € and a bath about 0,55 €.

However, the key question is not what you pay for the drinking water, but what is the real cost to produce it and if this is a “fair and sustainable price” for the future.

Returning to the case of gasoline, in recent months we have witnessed a drastic fall in the price of crude. However, as consumers we have not benefited entirely from this drop as fuel is heavily taxed in our country (more than half of the final cost is linked to taxes).

Well, the water is at the opposite extreme, ie, it is heavily granted. While it is true that public money comes at the end from “the black box” of our taxes, there is a very important hint facing the taxpayer. It is difficult to value water if its real cost remains unknown and even when waste it goes so cheap. In the choice between taking a shower or a bath it is clear that today, the money does not come into the equation. And if you go for the more sustainable option probably it is because of the 100 L of water that you save when you do not fill the bathtub. But … what if the money began to count?

Apparently positive for the citizen, the situation is untenable and water will be, within a short period of time, a very high value resource that will need to be managed more efficiently.

In Spain, our supply networks are often obsolete and water losses due to leaks are incalculable. Would you be willing to pay a fair price for water if that would guarantee access to higher water quality and helps to improve infrastructure?

Knowing is the first step to value and informed citizens lead to a responsible society. As an example, a study sponsored by the Council of Almeria in 2002 detected the presence of natural radioactivity in the groundwater intended to supply the population. Furthermore, the existing water treatments at that time were not enough to provide water suitable for human consumption. Then, some municipalities launched information campaigns which sensitized population and a raise of the water price was approved. Thereby, new treatments installed allowed the access to a high quality drinking water.

In recent years, the average consumption of water per capita and day has decreased in our country. What you can keep doing? First, use common sense in your daily habits. Remember not to let the water run from faucets when not necessary, think about how you use the toilet if you have a dual flush mechanism, or if you use the washing and dishwasher machine with full loads etc. Also, when buying new appliances, consider criteria of water efficiency, or install aerators on faucets or shower heads to reduce the flow by 50%. If you are interested, you just can google it and read:

“It’s too late to be a pessimist”. In CARTIF we are seeking for solutions to current challenges and water is one of them. Sustainable use of water, removal of micro-pollutants (endocrine disruptors, trihalomethanes), water-energy nexus, water in the context of circular economy, are for us among the water challenges of this century. In future entries in this blog, we will be telling you our research in these lines.