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🗣️ Water Value, Day Zero & Cost of Water

The Stream

Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Hosts: Will Sarni & Tom Freyberg
Guest: Madeleine Bell | Head of Strategy & Special Projects | Desolenator
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[9:44] “Why is water so undervalued? […] I think it comes down to just a lack of understanding just how finite the fresh water reserves are on earth compared to the total volume, which is available, and how this finite supply is being affected by climate change. And I think if there was more transparency about that, then I think that can be really powerful. I mean, on our blue planet 98% of this water is seawater. And then of the freshwater available, around 80% of that is trapped in glaciers and icebergs. And so we're already living as a very demanding human society on [less than] 1% of the water sources available. And I think just that statistic alone should be cause for concern, let alone if you start to think about how climate change is affecting rainfall and making rainfall more erratic, so it reduces our supplies, or you have storm surges and rising sea levels, contaminating freshwater sources from below. So we're on track for this perfect storm of rising demand and diminishing supply. And I think that that is where we've got to start as to how we start getting people to really value the water that we have.”

[12:26] “I think what Day Zero in Cape Town actually showed was that water, unlike […] maybe carbon emissions, which is sometimes much harder to localize, water is actually an incredibly local resource. And the actions across the whole of the Cape Town population were able to avert or at least delay for weeks, an impending Day Zero. And I think, […] we should take a lot of comfort from the fact that […] if you make individual actions, you can actually have a positive impact on the location that you're in. And so if people say, […] turning off the tap is only a drop in the ocean. Actually, I think Cape Town is a good example of all those drops adding up to make cumulative and tangible action.”

[14:15] “As someone who is an outsider to the water industry […] [I] look at the traditional water supply chain, and [I] see that this perpetuates cycles of inequality, unsustainability, it increases costs and risks. […] The model today is for vast centralized grid dependent water purification with very long supply chains to the end user. And this could be supply chains via infrastructure, but that creates its own challenges such as leaking and contamination, as you can see in London, as you've seen in Flint, Michigan, where you have supply chains which are transporting water via tankers. Saudi Arabia today has the largest fleet of water trucks in the world. Or you have Greek islands transporting water via boat. And that's not to mention plastic bottles. And I think this whole supply chain is what really increases inequality because it creates additional costs, and it creates additional risks. And actually, what we're trying to do […] is reimagine the water supply chain and move to a future of decentralized and much more locally provided water to try and offset some of these challenges.”

[15:55] “We are 100% solar powered. And this is not just a new or retrofitting solar panels to an existing technology, but this is a whole new approach. So what we do is we harness four times the standard solar energy because we're harnessing thermal or waste heat energy as well as electrical energy. So our solar panels operate at about 60% efficiency. And this power, essentially a giant kettle, it's a distillation process. So you can put in any water source from seawater to brackish to contaminated. And this is evaporated and condensed, and creates pure H2O, which we then remineralize for taste. And we are also storing the energy that we captured during the day, we store that in thermal batteries. So actually, although we're 100% solar powered, we can operate through the night.”

[17:36] “We're speaking to a number of different islands in the Caribbean. And today, the problem of water is actually an energy problem. So energy is very expensive, you have challenges of power cuts, and you have challenges that when you have a natural disaster and the electricity goes offline, you also cut your water supply. And so by being off grid, you are building resilience against both rising energy prices, which can increase your water prices and that comes back to the equality and the equity point […], but it's also about how do you build resilience against the impacts of climate change. So we can do that in a dual way, because […] we can purify many different types of water, whether you have rising sea levels because of climate change, but also it's about how do you have a resilient energy sector. And that's what we mean about breaking the supply chain.”

[19:06] “When you look at levelized cost of water, which is the capital expenditure of a system plus the lifetime of operating costs, a lot of water technologies today have a much higher energy cost because they require a lot of energy to purify the water. And so we are eliminating the energy demands for the 25 year lifecycle of this plant. And we also eliminate a lot of the small tricky elements such as membranes, and we don't use chemicals. And chemicals can be a really significant challenge and cost ongoing. So actually, we have a very low levelized cost of water when you take into account the fact we have very low operating costs.”

[24:29] “Water, especially I think, is very antiquated in how it is produced in many parts of the world. In the UK alone, around 20% of our water is lost every year because we still use the Victorian infrastructure. And so, in a world where water supply is increasingly uncertain, how can we address those challenges? And so, I'm very excited to be working in a company that's really looking and saying how do we create local resilience and try and overcome the long term challenges that the water industry has faced. And I'll say we're not the solution for everywhere. Water is such a mighty problem that you do need all different types of solutions in different geographies. But I think we have a real role to play in places where water stress and climate change are starting to meet.”

[32:15] “I think there's a real opportunity to get people excited about water. I think there's so many cool things that water can be used for if we can scale technologies that can create freshwater. And I just think water can be part of so many parts of our lives that we don't even think about often. And that's the way that we need to move forward after accelerators and and when you have technologies on the cusp of scale, is thinking what do they do not just as water on its own? […] And so how do we engage investors  about these other challenges that are all underpinned by water?”

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: “Social Entrepreneurship [+SGDs]”)
🕰️ 39 min | 🗓️ 05/19/2021
✅ Time saved: 37 min

Additional Links:
Water Foundry