30 Jun 2010
The Water Leader Summit held at the Singapore International Water Week is an annual meeting bringing together ministers, mayors, top government officials, global water industry leaders, heads of international organisations, leading researchers and practitioners to consider pressing water governance, technology and business issues.
At one of the sessions I attended on 30th June 2010, the discussion mainly revolved around two themes – the need to continually develop new and innovative technologies to better tackle the world’s water issues and the need to view water and energy as interlinked resources rather than two separate resources altogether.
The discussion at the Water Leader Summit was moderated by Lord Ronald Oxburgh who is well known for publicly advocating the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the need to develop alternative energy sources.
Mr Leon Awerbuch, President of Leading Edge Technologies Ltd said, “Water and energy are key resources that together are an issue of paramount importance for the continued development of the world.” He added, “They are both natural resources and are both interdependent. For example, the process of desalination is one that requires the use of energy.”
Another panelist, Ms Gretchen W. McClain Senior Vice President and President of ITT Fluid and Motion Control added on to Mr Leon Awerbuch’s comments, “It is absolutely critical that governments begin managing water and energy together so as to obtain the most efficient use of these resources.”
Besides the need to manage water and energy together, the need for continuous innovation in the field was emphasised rather heavily especially in the light of the diminishing supply of both natural resources; water and energy.
President and CEO of Siemens Water Technologies, Mr Charles Gordon, spoke of the advances his company was making in terms of improving the desalination process. Just two years into their project and Siemens is well on the way to meeting their goal of producing water through desalination at just 1.5 kilowatts per cubic metre of water, however as Mr Gordon put it, “the next challenge is to see if it will be commercially viable.”
He elaborated, “The question is if it will be good enough for the market? The trouble is we can’t benchmark our technology against what is currently available in the market, rather we have to benchmark it against future innovations.”
The challenge for water technology companies it seems, is “creating value for customers”; which can even force them go as far as to entirely repackage technology for different markets.
Surprisingly another issue that came to light during the panel’s discussion was one of mankind unintentionally poisoning his water supply. Lord Oxburgh brought up the topic of complex chemicals in the form of pharmaceuticals being dumped into water, and the danger they posed to consumers.
Ms Gretchin’s stand on the topic was that, “while there are technologies available that can address issues, it would be wise if we all did out part to try and ensure we do not dump them haphazardly.”
Dr Benedek on the other hand felt differently, rather than having to bring in new technologies to deal with it, he felt that pharmaceutical companies should, “redesign their pharmaceuticals rather than forcing people to have to find new ways to keep water safe.”
“America is half bankrupt, Europe isn’t doing too well and Asian countries aren’t going to invest in this kind of technology if their western counterparts aren’t going to be investing in it as well.”
However, while Mr Gordon pointed out that there is a general reluctance to adopt new technology, it was the general consensus that the development of new water technologies is about the recognition of issues.
According to Dr Benedek, “If there is an issue, it will be fixed.”
When the floor was opened, an audience member asked, why does the water technology market function as a commodity based market where price is the main competitive tool, why not offer a higher value proposition instead? In other words, why not put your money into researching a long term high value project rather than just short term commercially viable projects.
Once again Dr Benedek was the quickest to answer, saying that there are plenty of people who want to do the right thing. But simply do not have the opportunity to do so, “It is quite hard to convince a company to make such a major high capital, long term investment.”
While Ms Gretchen added that such a major research project is not as feasible due to the fragmented nature of the industry, “If we can somehow get these companies to work together more closely such research might be more viable.”
A feat that the many events held during the SIWW will hopefully bring that much closer to reality.
By Naveen K