Urban Water-Energy Strategies

By Robert Brears 13 August, 2014

Robert Brears shares some strategies available to urban water managers in China to promote water & energy

Urban WEN strategies are crucial as coal-power generation is shifting westwards to water scarce regions
There are a variety of price & non-price (subsidies, retrofitting...) management tools to reduce WEN demands
Pulbic education & promoting conservation awareness in schools are also vital tools to more water & cleaner skies

In China coal provides around three-quarters of the country’s primary energy. The total amount of coal burned per annum, over 4 billion tonnes, is nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. This enormous demand for coal has led to smog blanketing eastern cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou.

Power generation from coal is not being reduced or replaced by clean renewable energy…

…it is being shifted away from coastal cities

In response, the use of coal along the coast is being phased out, for example coal use in the province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, will be halved by 2017. However, power generation from coal is not being reduced or replaced by clean renewable energy. Instead, it is being shifted away from the large coastal cities with the government investing nearly half a trillion dollars in the construction of west-to-east power transmission lines.

A study conducted by the World Resources Institute found that 51 percent of the proposed coal-fired power plants are to be built in areas of high or extremely high water stress.

Mismatched - Water & New Coal Fired Plants

Furthermore the study found that 60 percent of the total proposed generating capacity is concentrated in six provinces that in total only account for 5 percent of China’s total water resources: A problem given coal-fired power generation is an extremely water-intensive process with water used to extract and wash coal; to cool the steam used to make electricity in the power plant; and to control pollution from the plant.

Large cities exposed to water stress & rapid urbanization

In China with rapid urbanization increasing demand for water and 108 cities (see table below for most water stressed large global cities), including Beijing, facing serious water shortages, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has announced a tiered water pricing system to encourage resource conservation.

With water and energy interlinked, water managers can use a variety of demand management tools to promote water conservation, which in turn lowers energy use from providing water & wastewater services

Water Stress Cities Table (450 pixels)

With water and energy interlinked, coastal city water managers can use a variety of demand management tools, in addition to pricing, to promote water conservation, which in turn lowers energy use from providing water and wastewater services (and water use in coal-fired power stations). In particular, water managers can use regulations, subsidies and rebates, product labelling, retrofit programmes, public education and competitions to modify the attitudes and behaviour of people towards water resources and reduce water and energy consumption patterns.

Some urban water-energy nexus solutions

Specifically, water managers can use temporary regulations to restrict certain types of water use during specified times and/or restrict the level of water use to a specified amount. Meanwhile, permanent regulations such as amendments to building codes requiring the installation of water meters and water-saving devices e.g. low-flow toilets, showerheads and faucets in all newly constructed or renovated homes and offices can be used to reduce water and energy use.

Economic instruments such as subsidies or rebates can be used to lower water consumption, and energy use, by providing subsidies for water-efficient household appliances that use less water/energy or rebates for installing water-efficient toilets or rainwater harvesting systems. The labelling of household appliances according to water efficiency is important in reducing water consumption levels (and energy use) by eliminating unsustainable products from the market. This is provided the labelling scheme is clear and comprehensible and identifies both private and public benefits of conserving water. Nonetheless, people are more likely to respond to eco-labels if the environmental benefits match closely personal benefits such as reduced water and energy bills.

Retrofitting programmes, including the replacement of devices can physically reduce water use in homes & offices

Water managers can implement retrofit programmes involving the distribution and installation of replacement devices to physically reduce water use in homes and offices. The most common retrofits are toilet retrofits, involving customers having their older toilets replaced with newer low/dual flush toilets, and the distributing of showerheads and faucet aerators (devices that when inserted into taps reduce the flow of water).

Urban water managers can promote water conservation in schools to increase young people’s knowledge on the water cycle and encourage the sustainable use of scarce water resources. To do so, water managers can use a variety of strategies including: School presentations, distribution of water conservation information and materials that can be used in school curriculum.

Water managers can use public education to persuade individuals and communities to conserve water resources. In particular, there are multiple tools and formats water managers can use to increase environmental awareness and water conservation including: Public information such as television commercials, newspaper articles and advertisements, internet and social media campaigns, public events such as conservation workshops, public exhibitions, and information in water bills such as leaflets on water conservation tips.

Urban water managers can increase participation rates in water conservation programmes by promoting competition among individuals and communities to achieve specific water consumption targets. Examples of competitions include eliciting commitments to water savings targets and promoting competition through the water bill. Regarding eliciting commitments, urban water managers can obtain verbal or written commitments from individuals and communities to achieve specific water saving targets. Competitions can also be formed to compare individuals or communities water savings with one another and offer winners recognition or prizes for their water saving achievements.

Benefits of promoting such water & energy conservation tools is more water & cleaner skies

Overall, with China shifting its coal-fired power stations away from coastal cities into water scarce regions, urban water managers can use a variety of price and non-price demand management tools to promote water and energy conservation. The benefit: More water and cleaner skies.


Further Reading

Water-Energy Nexus

  • Water Drives Coal Reform -To ensure energy security, China needs to protect its No 1 fuel source against water scarcity. Feng Hu takes a closer look at what the new water-for-coal plan and other related policies mean for coal and coal-related industries
  • Avoiding Hydro Wars -With up to 124GW of planned hydropower on China’s transboundary rivers, no wonder regional geopolitical tensions over water is running high. Debra Tan gives the low down on China’s hydropower expansion, are there other options to avoid sparking hydro wars?
  • Water: Moving Out of Silos – As part of CLSA’s latest ESG in China report: “Mopping-up”, China Water Risk’s Debra Tan was interviewed on all things water: from water & coal to textiles, food & government policies
  • China: No Water, No Power – HSBC asks if China has enough water to fuel its power expansion as China plans to add more than the total installed power capacity of the US, UK & Australia by 2030
  • Water for Coal -Thirsty Miners will Share the Pain -With up to 83% of China’s coal reserves in water stressed & scarce regions, the recent CLSA report asks if there is enough water to grow coal production. If not, what are our options? Debra Tan expands
  • MEP Reform: From Mountaintop to Ocean? – The MEP is currently regarded as too weak to punish polluters due to dispersed authority & overlapping functions. Given the ‘war on pollution’, is reform to make a Super MEP necessary to improve China’s ‘mountains, water, forest, farmland & lakes’?
  • Can Cities Meet Increasing Water Demands – Nitin Dani and Georgina Glanfield from Green Initiatives Shanghai share their thoughts on how Chinese cities can ensure water security. Can the public play a role?
  • Double Savings from the Ground Up – With caps on both water and energy usage, saving water and electricity takes centre stage. Asia Clean Capital’s Brione Bruce explains how ground energy can help achieve double savings
  • Water-Energy Nexus – for more on the water-energy nexus

Alternate Energy Sources & Water

  • Hydraulic Fracturing: Lessons from the US With heavy water use in hydraulic fracking for shale gas plus water pollution concerns, Freyman from Ceres shares water lessons & challenges learnt from the shale gas boom in the US
  • Is Fracking The Answer For Water Scarce China – Will water limit China’s access to possibly the world’s largest resoure of shale gas? Lisa Genasci discusses China’s possible energy alternative and its hold-backs
  • Water: Shaping China’s Food & Energy Choices -Debra talks about key issues & new trends surfacing from the Fortune Global Forum roundtable and why she thinks the 12FYP Strategic Emerging Industries are the real Magnificent Seven

Water Pricing

  • Pricing Water – With the NDRC’s recent announcement of tiered tariff hikes across China’s cities to rein in top end water users, Tan mulls over the proposed tiered water tariffs hikes and whether price points and switchpoints between tiers are properly set
  • Water Fees & Quotas: Set for Economic Growth? Debra Tan reviews the new joint standard on water pricing and new provincial quotas on water use, water efficiency and water quality released in January 2013
Robert Brears
Author: Robert Brears
Robert is an RL Expert on Water and Sustainability, Founder of Mitidaption and an Associate Fellow at the NFG 'Asian Perceptions of the EU' at the Free University of Berlin. He specialises in water security, corporate water risk and climate change risk in global supply chains and transitioning towards water security and sustainability. He is a contributing author for the Johns Hopkins Global Water Magazine. Robert has published widely on water security, water resources management, corporate water risk, emissions trading schemes, environmental refugees and has conducted field research in the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica. He has presented at international water conferences hosted by the International Water Association and American Water Works Association.
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