How can cities reduce water-energy nexus pressures?


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Credit: Water & Sanitation Program 

Cities over the past century have become the driving force of the global economy. Accounting for over half the world’s population and generating around 80% of global GDP, cities provide numerous opportunities for development and growth. Cities however bring about risks and challenges to people and the environment. By 2050, demand for water is projected to increase by 55% mainly due to increased demand from urban populations. At the same time demand for energy in providing water and wastewater treatment services will increase. 

Water and energy interconnected
Energy and water are interlinked  in two ways, first, water is used in the production of nearly all types of energy  (coal, geothermal, hydro, oil and gas, nuclear), and second, energy is the dominant cost factor in the provision of water and wastewater services (extracting and conveying water, treating water, distributing water, using water and collecting and treating wastewater). In fact, energy can account for up to 30% of total operating costs of water and wastewater utilities: in some developing countries this can be as high as 40% of the total operating cost. Meanwhile, on average 15% of the world’s total water withdrawals are used for energy production.
Reducing water-energy nexus pressures
Cities around the world have nonetheless initiated innovative processes that attempt to disconnect rising urban populations from increased demand for water and energy. Examples include Dubai of the UAE and Phnom Penh of Cambodia using technological and management innovations to reduce urban water-energy nexus pressures.

Case 1: Smart meters in Dubai
In its pursuit of being water and energy smart the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is installing smart meters across the Emirate enabling customers to receive real-time information on water and energy consumption. This will enable them to monitor actual consumption to better understand and manage bills. Specifically, in addition to providing current consumption data, DEWA’s smart meters will provide customers with historical consumption data as well as a breakdown of consumption processes that use water and energy. This will enable customers to identify water and energy efficiencies in their homes. The smart meter data is delivered to customers’ smartphones or tables via DEWA’s Smart App, allowing them to view billing information, graphs to check and compare consumption as well as set caps for both water and electricity consumption. Overall DEWA aims to have 1.2 million meters installed within 5 years. The installation of the smart meters will be in two stages:

  1. Smart meter installation: 200,000 smart meters will be installed all over Dubai which will be connected to a new advanced computerized system and software.
  2. DEWA will install the remaining smart meters. Enhancements of the operating system will be performed in conjunction with increasing the number of installed meters.

Case 2: Phnom Penh reducing its leakage rate
Phnom Penh’s Water Supply Authority has a non-revenue water (NRW) rate of around 7%, which is one of the lowest rates in the world. To reduce leakage, as well as energy required in treating water to potable standards – nearly 45% of the Authority’s operating cost is attributed to energy consumption – the Authority has installed a telemeter system that detects high leakages and illegal connections in different zones of the water supply system. To detect leakages more efficiently the city has been divided into 58 sub-zones each with its own local leak detection system. To ensure leaks are fixed rapidly the utility has leak repair teams on standby that operate 24/7, with the response time being two hours after a leak is detected. To ensure the utility is proactive in detecting leaks the Authority has established leak detection teams that are offered incentives to find leaks throughout the water supply system: to become more efficient in its operations incentives have become an important element of the Authority’s staff remuneration.  At the end of each year the utility’s NRW Committee reviews all leakage work and analyses each leak detection teams’ performance. The most efficient teams – based on the ratio of leaks at the start of the year with the end of the year – are rewarded monetarily, with some technicians having received rewards of up to 25% of their annual salaries.

With rapid urbanization increasing demand for water, and energy, cities around the world are exploring a variety of technological and management innovations to reduce urban water-energy nexus pressures. Do you know of such innovations that are taking place in your city? Please share in the comments below.

Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley). He is the founder of Mitidaption, Mark and Focus, is Director on the International Board of the Indo Global Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, and a Visiting Fellow (non-resident) at the Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS, Monterey, USA.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Bank.
Manzoor Ahmad Malik
September 25, 2016

In many cities, municipal water supplies are mixed (surface water plus groundwater). Groundwater abstraction is public as well as at private level. The private domestic tubewells are out of any regulatory ground water abstraction limit. They use water lavishly resulting in groundwater mining in already paved urban settlements. They are heading towards the twine problem of increased pumping cost and drying up of aquifer if it is confined one. For sustainable development, rainwater harvesting and induced groundwater recharge is required to be an integral part of urban planning and developments.

September 30, 2016

A simplest way to save water in the world with no cost as follows:
Step 1: At a washbasin – Just turn water tap maximum and measure total volume of water in a minute. That’s around 9 liters or more.
Step 2: There is a knob below every wash basin.
Step 3: Turn it little to reduce water flow.
Step 4: Water tap maximum volume of water in a minute should be equal to 6 liters or near it.
So, you save water 33% or more at the wash basin with no cost, time, or much effort.
This makes it to be the Simplest way to Save Water in the World and it comes with no cost.
Check source -…

Mike Morris
October 13, 2016

Interesting commonsensical suggestions Neeraj, which deserves measured support. The volume of my bucket however (or even that associated with the level of water I like in my bath) remains the same, irrespective of how long it takes to fill. The 33% saving only then applies to a proportion of uses, and the total 'saving' is much less. A spin-off of your suggestion might be that more folk become more knowledgeable about stop-cocks and adept at using wrenches or screwdrivers, with ultimately potential benefits to technological innovation?

Shirin Mathne
August 01, 2017

Of course the simplest way to save water is the better effort to save water..
And to this i would like to add that technologies for sure is a boon to the system.
Just that successful application of technologies such as leakage detection system and other such technologies should be made popular and publicity or awareness is important as it is applicable for all the countries.
Like I would like to give example of India where in villages there are already drinking water availability problem.. were from where should we get water is the issue and they cannot think of pure and safe water.
So in such places leakage detection system is a boon
So yes coming to the point
Water literacy
Water quality awareness
Proper detection ofleakages is more important to save water for future..

Bob Drew
April 14, 2017

How about capturing this basin (and tub) water along with showers and laundry? Treat it and use it on site. Also, bath, shower, and laundry use domestically is an order of magnitude higher amount than wash basins (lavatories, bathroom sinks), There are some technologies out there that can safely and reliably do this better than some of the older greywater recycling technologies.

October 02, 2016

Very interesting article on how the rest of the developing world is dealing with how to improve technological innovations in the water services on a daily basis due to the increase of urbanization within these countries. Very interesting how the UAE is working on helping its citizens understand their consumption with these meters that are being installed and how they can become educated on how they're bills are formed. This can really help with reducing overconsumption because now people can be aware of how much they are actually using.

David Zetland
October 12, 2016

These two examples are not exhaustive, but perhaps the MOST important factor is pricing water (either internally or to customers), so they have an INCENTiVE to pay attention to their smart meters, repair leaks, etc.

Dan CW Nkhuwa
October 13, 2016

The challenge if water supply and sanitation in major cities of the world is fast becomibg a reality that each one of us must begin to address at our own level. 1. How many times do we turn-on a tap in the morning to start brushing our teeth and leace ut runnibg whole doing so?
2. How nany times do we turn-on that shower and leave it running as we withdraw to scrab our bodies?
3. How much do we fill those jarkuzis in our bedrooms to create some kind of an indoor swimming pool?
4. Can we make do without those big family swimming pools in the name of conserving water? How shall we justify their initial investnent?
5. Is it possible to use backets to wash the several cars in our three-four packing-bays in iur yards instead of a horsepipe? etc., etc.,
Groundwater mining is becoming an order of the day in most of our cities. It is not uncommon to hear of drastic drawdown in most borehole during dry season, with most of them during our completely. In some instances, burning out of pumps becomes a recurrent expenditure for some water utilities during this time of the year because they just continue pumping their boreholes without monitoring water levels, until the latter drops to the suction level, then the pump begins to suck air instead of water.
Sorry for loud thought, and there unfortunately plenty where this came from.

October 17, 2016

Hi! We've been working to increase awareness of the water-energy-food Nexus in Alberta Canada. This incorporates water-energy as well as agricultural water use. As part of our first phase of work we've developed case studies and an interactive simulator to help people understand the trade offs required when there are converging water demands. We also incorporated the influences of environmental flows in the local river system and impacts of forecast population growth. You can see the work at - we'd be interested in people's feedback to make this tool even better for decision makers (and accessible to the public for transparency). From the Alberta WaterPortal team.

Ebru Alarslan
October 17, 2016

Dear Robert,
I would like to congradulate you for such a lucrative study.
with my very best wishes for a better future urban life

October 17, 2016

Interesting piece on the water-energy Nexus. It may be of interest we've been working to increase awareness of the water-energy-food nexus in Alberta, Canada. Primarily through case studies and an interactive simulation which shows the tradeoffs across industry, communities, energy, and the environment (with population also incorporated). By enabling decision-makers with tools and awareness of the Nexus concept, we can help improve holistic water management for the future using data and feedback. You can see the first phase of this non profit work here: Have a great day! The Alberta WaterPortal team.

Ruben Menke
November 08, 2016

I have a question and a comment:
Is there a reference for this figure:
"By 2050, demand for water is projected to increase by 55% mainly due to increased demand from urban populations.", it would be very appreciated.
As a PhD in this area I would like to note that renewable energies, don't need water and can be integrated very well in the energy supply of water distribution systems. (My research and that of others Eck et al., Stokes et al.)
Kind regards,
Ruben Menke

December 31, 2016

Joining brains, can change the world.
In Switzerland a condo runs jus on Sun power. Excess sun is transformed into hydrogen and/or hot water. There remains a mini-step to reuse all water with RO. Let's make the next step!

Eduardo Pasalodos
January 23, 2017

Great examples of different approaches.
We at WATENER - INCLAM GROUP has developed an integrated web platform, designed to address water-energy nexus challenges and improve the daily operation and management of water networks in terms of economic cost, water and energy usage and greenhouse gases production. WatEner provides an integrated and unique view of the network: real time, large-scale performance visualization and monitoring of all infrastructure elements and time series (including simulated and measured data) in a full GIS environment; a timeline display of anomalies and events; Artificial intelligence (machine learning, pattern recognition and business rules)-based simulations can be run to determine optimal future operational strategies, used to optimise operational decision making; dashboards and KPIs for managers and strategic decision makers.
You can visit and watch out video

January 24, 2017

great effort mr.robert but we need to come up with a clear plane for por counties

Hamidreza Rashidi
April 02, 2017

Perfect job Robert, Also we need to invest on consumer trainings and emphasize on SDG No 4 which is Quality Education for everyone to increase water-energy nexus's efficiency.

Ghazi Ozair
August 01, 2017

Dear Robert,
A very interesting piece of work on the water-energy Nexus, which needs to increase awareness amongst consumers.

Robert Chiran
August 10, 2017

Great task indeed! Congratulattion Mr. Robert for your piece of work. But in the industrial lavel how we cleanup it in future? What technologies will be used?

Bernard Sagaiyaraj
September 17, 2017

Do Low Flow Washing Basin Tap Fittings really save water ? Isn't this just a case of opening the low flow tap longer to get the water volume required to get the soap of your hand completely ?

shri dhar
October 27, 2017

Great effort Mr.Robert ,In our project the NRW Target is 7%,with Rapid increase of population we need more source of water too, even we put more effort to reduce the water which will be helpful , but will be requiring more source of water too

James Wahome
March 13, 2018

In Kenya, the pressure for the water is intense. As the government tries to bridge the gap of scarcity in cities like Nairobi and Nakuru, the efforts to tap the resource from the rural areas is raising a sense of 'deprivation' in the source areas. They require more water for domestic and agriculture. The problem is exacerbated by effects of climate change and destruction of water towers. Efficient use of water in towns should be promoted through use of technology.

Pallavi Bharadwaj
March 23, 2018

I cannot believe that it has been more than 10 years since I have worked hands on managing water across sectors at WWF-India. We even had a fancy term for it 'Watergy' (taking into acc. and deducting environmental water via the e-flows approach, working to reduce the subsidies on irrigation water, fixing the leakages in municipal water supply and experimenting with non-traditional wastewater management techniques to improve efficiency and so on), however we had found early on that instead of working cross sector, we should work to improve the management within the sectors first. These are all great points and case studies that you cited and there are many more like Hubli-Dharwad in Southern India that we worked with during our project at WWF.

Ricardo Sandoval
April 05, 2018

Interesting cases. But perhaps we also need to know if there have been succesful experiences of long and short term water allocation mechanisms that have allowed to maximize benefits (both private and social) and/or minimizing risks when considering the trade-offs between water and energy utilization, for instance during droughts. And which mechanisms have proved effective (economic, legal, coordination...) to promote efficiency beyond the convenience of a single user's bottom line. Also, if project and planning guidelines have been produced, so both water and energy conservation are properly taken into account when designing water networks or developing water supply and sanitation plans. I believe that being aware of the nexus is important, but having concrete incentives and technical guidelines to act accordingly is instrumental.

James Mawa
April 24, 2018

Interesting. In Uganda, we have a great challenge in the clean water distribution. Some parts still do not have access to clean potable water and those that have , its insufficient to the population. However, we're now looking forward to affordable innovations that can generate both energy and reusable water in order to ensure sustainability