Energy-Water linkage

Across the planet, water and energy resources are going to be scarce in varying degrees in the near future. Water is a green source of energy production and input for thermal power. Water is needed to generate energy, and energy is needed to produce, transport, treat and distribute water. So it is essential to integrate policy frameworks while addressing water-energy challenges with a focus on efficient utilisation and conservation.

Water stress has already been felt in different parts of the country. The demand for water is expected to increase significantly in the future and is also true for electricity. According to the ministry of water resources, water is going to be scarce by 2035. Water demand for energy production is expected to increase 16 times from the current level by 2050.

India's water systems are characterised by (i) low operational efficiencies-40-50% water leakages in the piped supply, (ii) low quality of services-low pressure and inconsistent quality, (iii) low revenue-often insufficient to recover operation & maintenance costs, and (iv) little incentive to change.

Besides, a highly seasonal pattern of rainfall and total flows is also a concern. Nearly 50% precipitation falls in just 15 days, and over 90% of river flows occur in just four months. Low per capita storage capacity results in an inability to retain seasonal water. These call for action to address the challenges in water and energy sector together.

But the casual approach to the issue is evident from the following examples. In thermal electricity production, there are efficiency norms for primary fuel, auxiliary consumption, and manpower per unit of production, but there are no such benchmarks for water use. While it is mandatory for power-intensive consumers to conduct periodic energy audits of their facilities through accredited energy auditors under the Energy Conservation Act 2001, there is no binding provision for checking the efficiency in such installations.

In 2009, some 16.3 million electric pump-sets consumed 108 billion units of electricity, or 21% of total consumption, for irrigating farms. Electricity being free or highly under-priced does not encourage its efficient utilisation. In most cases, farmers use inefficient motors. Oversizing motors to prevent burnout from power fluctuations and leaving the pumps switched on to compensate for irregular supply are also prevalent. Such practices have led to the over-exploitation of groundwater resources. In urban areas, electricity is used to treat drinking water.

The National Water Policy was introduced in 2002 to govern planning, development and management of water resources. The policy talks about an integrated, multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach, like developing multipurpose projects (hydro dams designed to generate and meet irrigation and drinking needs). However, the policy lacks clarity on inter-agency coordination. The policy duly stressed on conservation, but without any supporting framework.

Creating new infrastructures for meeting the growing water needs has always been the preferred solution. Such supply side solutions need huge investments and ensuring their long-term sustainability is a challenge. So demand side management and conservation are inevitable.

It is imperative to renew our attention on demand-side-management and conservation approaches. Huge subsidies have been driving inefficiencies. Regulatory institutions have to make coordinated efforts to inculcate conservation habits. Introduction of the principle of cost recovery is conceptually the simplest solution, but is difficult to implement. Greater coordination amongst agencies for planning, and development and implementation of multipurpose projects are essential. It's time for us to move from 'water resources development" to 'water resources management'.

A common legislative framework that addresses efficiency which impinge on each other would be desirable. Though we can supplement energy needs through a host of renewable energy sources, water has no substitute, and we have to treat it with respect.

Tags: hydro energy, hydroelectricity, energy audits, thermal electricity, The National Water Policy, water efficiency, water adaptation work, integrated water resource management