Aug 30, 2011
(Design by Sana Sandler / Courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.)
Our third webinar highlighted two projects from Carol Miller and Jeff Edstrom who are exploring the growing connection between water and energy.
Carol Miller is leading a team to develop software that will allow municipal water systems to reduce air pollution and other water use impacts. Water system operators must provide enough water to maintain pressure in the face of daily fluctuating demands. The team is designing algorithms that automatically direct pumps to operate at times when the electric power grid is supplied by the cleanest available sources of energy, avoiding times when it is supplied by more polluting sources. The team is developing and testing this technology in southeast Michigan. The intent is to provide the products to all basin utilities free of charge.
Jeff Edstrom is leading a team that is shifting the “less water use is better, more water use is worse” sentiment that drives many water conservation efforts, exploring how water conservation can be used more practically in restoration plans. The team is showing how reducing the impacts of withdrawals, discharges, and corresponding chemical usage and power usage can alleviate environmental problems more effectively than simply calling for reduced use. The team is creating assessment tools, including a tool to estimate carbon reductions associated with water conservation, to identify water conservation benefits that allow practitioners to focus on actions that produce better ecological results.
Click here to view the webinar. Due to technical difficulties Carol Miller’s presentation was re-recorded and is available here.
Aug 23, 2011
I have just returned from a three-day expert workshop on Financing Sustainable Water Infrastructure sponsored by the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread. This is one of the best and most useful gatherings I've attended on the future of water, wastewater, drainage and other "utilities." Financiers, C-suite executives, entrepreneurs, ngo leaders, and regulators explored what the "utility" of the future would do, how it might be capitalized, and how ongoing services would be paid for. This discussion is closely allied with two workshops that the Fund recently hosted exploring similar issues.
Reports on all three will be forthcoming shortly-- watch this space for updates.
Based on the energy and enthusiasm in these sessions, it seems like the utility space is not only ripe for innovation, but that we are already in the early days of transforming what we now call water "utilities." A few common themes: distributed technologies (think green infrastructure, rainwater harvesting, and agricultural BMPs) are disrupting the natural monopoly of utilities-- opening up new ownership structures and access to different capital sources; revenues, currently from rates (based on cost recovery) can move toward prices (based on creating shared value)--think about on-bill financing of efficiency technologies, point-of-use services (like carbonation or filtration), and buying a share of equity in the utility; integration and consolidation makes financial and performance sense--there is one hydrologic cycle, but our services are fragmented, myopically optimized, and often operate at cross purposes; and last, change is happening-- Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Cleveland are fundamentally rethinking how they deliver services. Some of these things will work, other won't, but there is much learning underway. What is exciting is the chance to embed positive ecological change in the center of whatever water "utilities" become.
For another attendee's take on the Wingspread meeting, read Peter Malik's post here. Thanks to the Johnson Foundation, American Rivers and CERES for planning this event.
We welcome ideas for projects that try a specific action which will catalyze the changes underway in this industry. Have one of those ideas? Let's start a conversation.