5 reasons the thirst for water technology will grow in 2014

Tue, 01/14/2014 - 11:56
By Heather Clancy.

Like energy, water is a universal issue: every facility, product, community and person is touched by it somehow. As the United Nations notes: "Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for 7 billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed."

Reversing that trend will take a serious annual investment: almost $840 billion, or $1.8 trillion over the next 20 years, estimates the U.N. University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-UIWEH). The good news is that this could deliver almost $3 trillion in economic, environmental and social benefits.

Which tipping points will matter most to your business? Here are five factors driving the urgent need for better global water efficiency.

1. Population trends translate into bursting demand

The United Nations figures that 1.2 billion people (about one-fifth of the world's population) are challenged bywater scarcity. And 1.6 billion don't have access because of "economic water shortages." In other words, their communities or countries don't have the infrastructure to get clean water to its population.

By 2025, almost 1.8 billion people will be affected by "absolute" water scarcity and almost half will live in water-stressed regions. The bottom line is that water availability will be a major investment consideration in business expansion plans around the world.


2. Sanitation, irrigation needs transform wastewater treatment

In September 2013, UNU-UIWEH predicts a rapid rise in the use of treated wastewater for irrigation and other needs. The water scarcity metrics cited above provide ample justification.

But right now, most wastewater is still wasted: in high-income countries, the treatment rate is 70 percent, but it falls to just 28 percent for lower-middle-income nations and 8 percent in low-income economies.

3. Utility costs are rising quickly

If humanitarian concerns don't excite upper management at your company, how about saving money as an argument?

Commercial water rates have risen an average of 30 percent over the past four years in the United States, according to data gathered by Ecova, which tracks metrics from more than 700,000 facilities on an ongoing basis.

4. Distribution networks are aging rapidly

In established urban areas, the pipes, pumps and reservoirs are an average of 50 to 100 years old — and they are showing their age in the form of undetected leaks. In emerging economies, the infrastructure may be younger, but it is just as unreliable. Overall, the World Bank estimates the annual global value of water lost by utilities at $14 billion. The average U.S. utility pours up to 30 percent down the drain through leaks or un-billed usage.

5. Data centers guzzle more water

Most technology managers are pretty familiar with the concept of power usage effectiveness (PUE), which measures the ratio of electricity needed for equipment to cool IT infrastructure versus the amount of power it takes to run the technology itself.

Far fewer are familiar with water usage effectiveness (WUE), a metric that looks at how many liters of water go into running and cooling them.