Under Pressure: Water Supply in Brazil

A severe drought affecting Brazil’s biggest city has led to a “water war” that could cause the water supply to collapse in parts of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Authorities in São Paulo have been battling a water crisis for months as reservoirs run dry for lack of rainfall.Earlier this month, the state energy company in São Paulo (Cesp) asked the national operator of the electric system (ONS) to reduce the water flow at the Jaguari hydro-electric dam on the Rio Paraíba do Sul from 40,000 litres per second to 10,000 litres per second.The measure was intended to prioritise water supply to residents in São Paulo state over energy generation.But according to the ONS, which reduced the flow over several days to just 30,000 litres per second, a unilateral reduction would empty reserves and leave millions in 41 municipalities without water by the end of October.
In a statement, the operator said: “The ONS informed the National Water Agency and Cesp that it was not considered viable to meet the request of the agency.” Public prosecutors in Rio have requested information about increasing the water flow of the Paraíba do Sul river, which runs through Rio state and into São Paulo. The dispute over resources has caused conflict between the state governments in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Reports suggested the row could end up in the hands of the president, Dilma Rousseff. “São Paulo cannot take a unilateral decision,” Luiz Fernando Pezão, Rio governor, told Estadão newspaper.“I’m sure the federal government, through the National Water Agency, will determine what has to be done with the Paraíba do Sul river.” Residents in Rio state have reportedly already been affected with shortages that coincided with the temporary reduction in water flow at the dam. Read on...


Iraq's Water: Another Threat in Paradise?

IRAQ depends on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for drinking water, supplying industry and irrigating massive swathes of farmland. The two rivers account for 98% of the country’s surface water. Until recently the government’s greatest concern has been the fact that the source of neither river is in the country. In the past few decades dams and diversions across Turkey and Syria have steadily reduced the quantity of water reaching Iraq.
Now Iraq has a greater concern. Both waterways flow through areas of northern Iraq controlled by the Islamic State (IS), an extremist group that grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq and today claims an area the size of Jordan straddling Syria and Iraq. On August 8th America began air strikes against the group, after IS carried out a series of attacks that targeted minorities including Christians and Yazidis and threatened the semi-autonomous northern area of Kurdistan. In one of those attacks, on August 7th, IS took control of Mosul dam.
After targeting oil fields in Syria and Iraq, IS may now have its sights trained on water. Mosul is not the only dam for which IS has fought. After taking large parts of Iraq in a campaign that started in Mosul, the country's second largest city, in June, on August 1st IS battled to take control of Haditha dam on the Euphrates in the eastern province of al-Anbar. The fighters were repelled by Iraqi troops and Sunni tribes, but reports suggest the offensive continues.
IS may want to control these resources in order to bolster its claim to run a state. But it may have additional motives. Baghdad and southern Iraq rely on water being released from these dams. So IS could cut off the water, limiting flows to Baghdad and the south or, conversely, release large amounts that could cause floods (although this would also flood areas controlled by IS, including Mosul city, south of the dam).
Any change in water flows would also affect the availability of food, because Iraq is heavily dependent on irrigation to grow wheat, barley, rice, corn and fruit and vegetables. IS has already taken control of a number of government wheat-storage sites in Ninewa, Kirkuk and Salaheddin provinces. Some reports suggest that it is using these to supply flour to residents in the provinces north of Baghdad who are now cut off from a public programme that distributes flour, rice, sugar, and sunflower oil. Others reckon IS will sell the wheat—like it has oil—to local mills, bakers and farmers to generate additional funds. Read on ...


Back in Black: China's Massive Coal Industry Devouring Water Resources

On a bitter cold day in Inner Mongolia, the grasslands here hold an unexpected sight: a shallow lake so warm the surface is shrouded in steam. This lake is a recent addition, formed by water discharged from a new plant that converts coal into methane gas.
When operating at full capacity, the Datang International plant will require more than 7 billion gallons of water each year. And this is just a side stream of the vast flows of water demanded by plants turning coal into gas, chemicals and electricity in Inner Mongolia and other regions of China's north and west. These coal complexes rank among the planet's largest industrial emitters of carbon dioxide, which in the decades ahead will escalate climate change and acidification of the oceans. But right now, the coal industry's massive thirst may be both its biggest liability and the biggest constraint to expansion in a nation of more than 1.3 billion people struggling with serious water shortages. Vast amounts of water are used for cooling and processing some 4 billion tons of coal that China consumes each year.

Some 15% of the nation's annual water withdrawals are claimed by the coal industry, with many mines and plants located in arid areas where rivers are under stress, underground aquifers are in decline and pollution is rampant. In the decades ahead, climate change will aggravate China's water problems by melting glaciers that help sustain the summer flows of some major rivers. By 2030, the basin of the Yellow River, China's second-longest river, is forecast to be 18% short of the water needed to meet demand, according to a study from China's Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research. Conservation efforts by the Chinese government include the construction of new coal-fired power plants that recirculate the water used for cooling. China also is spending $62 billion to redistribute water by canals from wetter areas of the country to dry zones in one of the biggest construction projects of all time. Despite such efforts, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, in a report released in 2013, noted that most of the power plants operated by the five largest state-owned power companies are in water-scarce areas and at high risk of flow disruptions during the next two decades. There may not be enough water to support all the new coal plants, the report added.

In Inner Mongolia, water shortages have been a problem for decades. Overgrazing and farming have turned some once-productive lands into dust bowls, forcing the relocation of thousands of people, and stirring up huge sand storms that have swept across Asia. Coal development in recent years added to the region's stresses, accelerating desertification as open-pit mines reroute water flows and coal plants draw from water reserves. "We already find great tension between coal and water. Many communities are affected, and the industry is overusing water from the major rivers," said Sun Qingwei, an environmental activist with a PhD in geography who has conducted extensive research in Inner Mongolia and other arid regions. Read on ...


The Iranian Water Crisis: A Strategic Analysis

Abstract In 2013 faced with a critical shortage of water, the Iranian government called for water conservation and greater water use efficiency nation-wide. Despite imminent shortages, water use in Iran remains inefficient, with domestic use 70 per cent higher than the global average. Iran has a national population of 75 million people, 12 million of whom reside in the capital; demand for water is rapidly increasing, even as major lakes and groundwater resources begin to shrink. Population growth, more frequent droughts and the effects of climate change are creating the ‘perfect storm’ for future water insecurity. We are left with the question, are the proposed changes too little, too late?

Paper (abbrev.) Security in the Middle East continues to focus on the political and geostrategic priorities of regional states, but a greater challenge has now presented itself, in the form of natural resource scarcity and vulnerable water supplies. Issa Kalantari, former Iranian Minister for Agriculture has stated in an interview that the water crisis in Iran is the biggest problem threatening the state. Overshadowed in global current affairs by Iranian politics and the negotiations over its nuclear program, the looming water crisis presents a formidable challenge. Located in one of the most arid regions in the world, Iran has an annual average precipitation rate of 252 millimetres, approximately one third of the global average. Exacerbating the severity of water shortages, as much as 70 per cent of precipitation is lost to evaporation. Estimates suggest that lower-than-average precipitation in 2013 caused a 30 per cent reduction in the volume of water in dams across the country, with only five exceeding 90 per cent capacity. According to the Institute for Forest and Pasture Research, groundwater levels have dropped two metres in recent years across 70 plains, affecting as much as 100 million hectares. According to the UN Development Program, the level of Iran’s per capita water resources are predicted to fall to as little as 816m³ in 2025, down from 2,025m³ in 1990. Iran is divided into six key and 31 secondary catchment areas.

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Besides the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman Basins, all of Iran’s basins are located in the interior, where renewable freshwater sources are limited. Close to half of Iran’s total renewable water is located in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman Basins, representing one quarter of its land mass. Conversely, the Markazi Basin covers more than half of Iran’s land mass, but holds less than one-third of
the available freshwater. Over 84 per cent of Iran is arid or semi-arid; over 50 per cent of the country is either desert or mountain; and 16 per cent of the Iranian landmass has an elevation of 2000m or more above sea level. Streams are seasonal, causing flooding during spring and drying during summer, leading to significant variability in freshwater access for those reliant on surface water resources. Due to high evaporation of surface water, Iranian’s have, for centuries, used traditional methods of water transport and access to supply their freshwater resources. More than 2000 years old, the Qanat is still used in Iran today and is designed to access and transfer groundwater without the use of lifting devices. Wells are sunk every 20 to 50 metres along the system, with a tunnel then built to link the wells on a slope from higher ground. Groundwater flows naturally down the tunnel till it reaches a surface point at the end, either in a town or city, or by creating an artificial desert oasis. Read on...


Intermittent Renewables: will 'Power-to-Gas' be the Solution?

The German government has committed the country to an 'Energiewende', in which at least 80% of electricity production and 60% of primary energy needs are to be supplied by solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources by 2050. A big open question is how the intermittency of renewable energy sources like wind and sunshine can be reconciled with the need to reliably supply energy whenever and wherever it's needed, whether to heat homes, fuel trucks and trains, or power electrical equipment.

'Power-to-gas' and 'power-to-liquids' could be the answer, according to engineers and researchers who spoke to a packed hall at the third annual conference of the Power to Gas Association in Berlin on Wednesday (2.7.2014), hosted by the German Energy Agency (DENA).
Michael Sterner, a professor at East Bavarian Technical University in Regensburg, says the technology is crucial to the success of the Energiewende. "Power-to-gas is absolutely necessary for a 100 percent renewable energy power supply and for the decarbonization of the transportation and chemical industry," he told DW.

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In principle, the technology proposition is straightforward. Germany, like most developed countries, already has a well-developed network of pipelines and storage tanks for natural gas. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is used to heat homes and generate electricity in gas turbines. Methane, the main component of natural gas, also serves as a basic feedstock for the petrochemical industry, which makes everything from plastics to pharmaceuticals.
It turns out that the existing gas storage and distribution network could be used to solve the country's energy storage problem. That's because fossil fuel reservoirs (natural gas wells) are not the only available source of methane. Professor Sterner explained that methane can also be synthesized in chemical factories from three simple and common ingredients: carbon dioxide, water, and electricity.
Using a long-established process called 'electrolysis', chemical engineers can tear apart water and carbon dioxide molecules (H2O and CO2), and then recombine the pieces into any number of new molecules - starting with methane, CH4.

The methane synthesis process requires electricity as an input, which is why it's called 'power-to-gas'. If the electricity comes from a renewable energy source like a wind turbine or a solar array, the resulting synthetic methane is called 'renewable gas', or sometimes by special names like 'wind-gas' or 'solar gas', depending on the source of the primary energy input.
Among many other things, engineers can take synthetic methane and further process it to make synthetic liquid fuels like methanol or butanol - which can be used to fuel diesel or gasoline engines - or kerosene, which is the main constituent of jet fuel. The relevant terms of art are 'power-to-liquids' or 'renewable liquid fuels'.
So far so good - but while the technology is quite straightforward, the business case isn't. It doesn't cost very much to sink a well and tap natural gas from a geological formation, or to send it to distant markets by pipeline. Natural gas is cheap. Synthetic methane is much more expensive. Read on...


Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q02/2014

-- a _kt75 | note

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q02/2014.

The most recent issue of the Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management (Q02/2014) is freely available.

In continuation of the successful publication of the Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management the current issue concentrates on a broad range of topics including land subsidence, implications of climate change on ground water regimes, technical developments in the small hydro power sector, etc. Geographically, the Notes once more focus on regions exposed to complicated water supply conditions: Middle-East and Asia. A number of publications tackle the named issues in detail and provide cutting-edge insights on present developments.
An important, because seldom considered, region represents the Horn of Africa and the water supply issues encountered there. A comprehensive overview is provided by a dedicated report. As always all reprints are completely referenced and can be accessed via the web.

Along with the publication of the Notes the _kt75 | reflections are published. With great pleasure it could be noted that more than 1’000 copies of the last years release of the series Inside Sustainability: Facts, Figures, Bullshit - Part I: http://goo.gl/mqFvZ, II: http://goo.gl/bKMfN and III: http://goo.gl/T1fyG - were downloaded. It may be considered as an indicator for the importance of the sustainability issue.

Download the full issue of the Notes free of charge: http://goo.gl/hDbhUR 


Is Europe tangled in an Energy Dilemma?

-- a _kt75 | reprint

On May 28 the European Commission published its energy security strategy. In the midst of sanctions and strong rhetoric on the need to reduce dependence on Russian gas, this was to be the first salvo in a long term plan to reduce dependence on Russian natural gas. Unsurprisingly, this will not happen any time soon.

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has confirmed two things: Europe continues to be divided on energy security issues, and the importance of energy related matters is modest compared to concern about the right and left wing drift of European politics. That last point only puts energy issues in perspective, which is probably good for many scholars and observers working on the topic, including this author.

Energy Security in Europe

Reaching European consensus on energy security was rarely successful, despite attempts to develop an overall supranational energy policy ever since the Declaration of Messina in 1955. With the entrance of 10 new, predominantly eastern European member states to the EU in 2004 however, achieving consensus has de facto become impossible, unless policy makers step over their own shadows and move beyond narrow parochial national interests. Over the last decade, the world has witnessed increased divergence between eastern and western European matters related to external suppliers of energy resources, the fuel mix and ambitions over renewable energy.
Both sides have a reasonable story to tell. In the western part of Europe, trade relations with Russia are by and large stable, and prices for natural gas competitive from a global perspective. Historically, natural gas markets have been reasonably well developed, and in recent years successful efforts have been made to integrate markets, increase storage facilities, build interconnectors, reverse gas pipeline flow options, construct liquefied natural gas (LNG) regasification terminals and become attractive for diverse suppliers, making this part of Europe resilient to the risks of supply shocks. In addition, countries like Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom are at the forefront of a push to a low-carbon economy, which is crucial considering global warming, but also makes sense from an energy security perspective.
In Eastern Europe, with the exception of Romania, natural gas historically has played an insignificant role. This is because the resource was not available in this part of the continent, and thus economies were built on widely available coal and to a lesser extent oil. As a result, natural gas markets are small in terms of total consumed volumes, not well developed in terms of available infrastructure and network integration and market models are outdated, with prices still often regulated. It thus makes sense that the modest amount of natural gas that is supplied here often comes exclusively from Russia. Because of the lack of competition, arbitrary pricing is more the rule than the exception. Add to this the historical backdrop of political subjugation and the outcries for diversification away from Russia sound reasonable.
These outcries sound even more reasonable considering that during the accession talks of these member states, prior to them joining the EU, decreasing the usage of coal, which does not mesh well with Europe’s renewable and climate ambitions, was actively discussed. Alternatively, natural gas markets had to be developed, and EU funding was to be available to cover a share of the costs. However, once these countries joined the EU, it became apparent that European institutions, in fact, have very limited capacity (in 2004 they had none, both legally and financially) to help develop infrastructure. Thus, these countries felt that they were left in the cold. Read on...


Moneytalks II: World needs $48 trillion in investment to meet its energy needs to 2035

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014

IEA World Energy Outlook special report sees rising role of governments in shaping investment decisions.

Meeting the world’s growing need for energy will require more than $48 trillion in investment over the period to 2035, according to a special report on investment released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as part of the World Energy Outlook series. Today’s annual investment in energy supply of $1.6 trillion needs to rise steadily over the coming decades towards $2 trillion. Annual spending on energy efficiency, measured against a 2012 baseline, needs to rise from $130 billion today to more than $550 billion by 2035.

“The reliability and sustainability of our future energy system depends on investment,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “But this won’t materialise unless there are credible policy frameworks in place as well as stable access to long-term sources of finance. Neither of these conditions should be taken for granted. There is a real risk of shortfalls, with knock-on effects on regional or global energy security, as well as the risk that investments are misdirected because environmental impacts are not properly reflected in prices.”
Newly compiled data show how annual investment in new fuel and electricity supply has more than doubled in real terms since 2000, with investment in renewable source of energy quadrupling over the same period, thanks to supportive government policies. Investment in renewables in the European Union has been higher than investment in natural gas production in the United States. Renewables, together with biofuels and nuclear power, now account for around 15% of annual investment flows, with a similar share also going to the power transmission and distribution network. But a large majority of today’s investment spending, well over $1 trillion, is related to fossil fuels, whether extracting them, transporting them to consumers, refining crude oil into oil products, or building coal and gas-fired power plants.

Investment decisions are increasingly being shaped by government policy measures and incentives. While many governments have retained direct influence over energy sector investment, some stepped away from this role when opening energy markets to competition:  many of these have now stepped back in, typically to promote the deployment of low-carbon sources of electricity. In the electricity sector, administrative signals or regulated rates of return have become, by far, the most important drivers for investment: the share of investment in competitive parts of electricity markets has fallen from about one-third of the global total ten years ago to around 10% today. Read on...


When the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine...

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014

There is a boom in renewable energy sources coming online worldwide, but the predominant types – solar and wind – are problematic due to their variable nature. For most regions of the world, the sun cannot be expected to shine nor the wind blow when required.

What is needed is a way to capture that energy when available, perhaps in the middle of the night, when demand is low, and then store it until it can be used when demand rises. But this is not a trivial problem to solve.
According to the European Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2013, the UK had 10.5GW of wind turbine capacity installed, with more in planning and construction. As the percentage of energy generated from renewables increases, the intermittency problem becomes more acute, as has been seen in countries like Germany or Ireland.

Germany, the country with the highest renewable capacity in Europe, has faced major technical problems due to the intermittency of renewable energy. The main issue is maintaining sufficient supply in the face of fluctuating levels of wind or sunshine. Back-up supply in the form of conventional power plants is required to meet demand. But as different types of power plant take time to come online – 48 hours for nuclear, 12 hours for coal-fired, down to a few hours for modern gas power plants, or ten seconds for the water released from a dam to start the turbines – having a back-up always available means having power plants running most of the time, which is inefficient and expensive.
Another problem is integrating renewable energy supplies into the high voltage electricity grid. For example, in Ireland given the fact that there is more wind at night when many businesses usage is low, a significant percentage of the energy produced may have been dumped, because the electricity produced cannot easily be transmitted across the grid.
So a means of storing energy is a vital part of any future energy system that includes a substantial amount of variable and uncontrollable renewable energy. Energy storage provides flexibility and reduces the need to rely on fossil fuel back-up power. Read on...


Fracking: Should India Dive into the Shale Boom?

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014

The energy economics of the world is now at a crossroads, giving rise to a fiery debate among experts whether it will bring about a momentous change in the world’s strategic balance. The Ukraine crisis has given an impetus to it by threatening a cut in the supply of Russian oil and gas to Europe; the West is now on the lookout for an alternative source of energy. With the United States making rapid progress in the area of shale oil and gas technology, and several large-scale shale reserves being discovered in Western Europe and Latin America, dependence on hydrocarbon supplies from the Middle East and the Persian Gulf will decrease, which will ultimately lead to a lapse in big power involvement in the region. This has all come as a boon to American companies involved in the exploitation of shale resources, and they are leaving no stone unturned in sweeping away the impediments to their business expansion.

Now the big question is whether India can take advantage of these technological advancements, as she also has commercially viable shale reserves.

Waiting for the next issue of the Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water
Management - Q02/2014? Release: 1st July 2014.

In between, explore the previous issues or get the _kt75 | first reader to stay tuned.
But there is a flip side to the shale revolution. Environmentalists worldwide have protested against the exploitation of shale resources, arguing that it may cause serious ecological harm as the process involves use of poisonous chemicals. Even officials in India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests voiced opposition in inter-ministerial meetings convened to consider the draft policy on the use of shale technology. There are also allegations in the United States that many of these companies engaged in shale exploitation are not divulging their modus operandi, making it difficult to know the true extent of environmental impact.

More transparency can help if shale is to solve the world’s longstanding energy problems and geopolitical overreliance on the Middle East. Last year the World Bank was hopeful that oil prices would fall under $102 per barrel. Although the projection seemed a bit optimistic, it cannot be denied that the Western world has moved towards energy self-sufficiency, and the emerging energy situation may not be as bleak as it has been made out to be. While the US has been increasing its domestic crude oil production – recording a jump of 1.4 percent in 2012 – Canada is sitting on a massive reserve of two trillion barrels. Production has also been growing in various other Central and South American countries like Brazil, Columbia and Mexico. Read on ...
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