February 2, 2009

Do we face "peak water"?

Probably not for households, as long as we have plentiful electricity.  It's a very serious problem, especially for farmers, who are accustomed to very cheap water:

"A quick spin through recent headlines reveals just how badly -- and how soon -- we're going to need new supplies of freshwater: Over the past 18 months in the United States alone, the governor of Georgia declared a state of emergency due to water shortages; salmonella contaminated municipal water in Colorado; and eight states ratified the Great Lakes Basin Compact, an agreement designed to ensure that Great Lakes water, nearly 20% of the world's freshwater, won't be shipped beyond those basins -- not even to nearby Minneapolis or Pittsburgh.

Worldwide, the picture is far bleaker. Global water consumption has roughly doubled since World War II, and yet, according to the United Nations, 1.1 billion people still have no access to a clean, reliable supply. Eighty percent of disease and deaths in developing countries -- more than 2.2 million people a year, including 3,900 children each day -- are caused by diseases associated with unsanitary water. The cost of waterborne diseases and associated lost productivity drains 2% of developing countries' GDP each year."

..."In energy-rich, water-desperate countries in the Middle East and Asia, desalination already fills a vital role. Saudi Arabia currently produces about 18% of the world's desal output, and the Middle East is expected to invest $30 billion in the technology by 2015. Places such as Algeria, Dubai, Libya, and Singapore all depend on desal for drinking water. China's desal investments are expected to increase by an order of magnitude, from about $60 million to more than $600 million in the next 10 years. The worldwide market, now about $11 billion, is expected to explode to $126 billion by 2015."

..."What the world really needs is a very low cost to desalinate water. We said 10 cents per meter cubed [an 80% reduction from today's average*]. But you can't think incremental innovation will get us there. You have to think breakthrough. It will take new science, new engineering, breakthrough innovation."

..." ADC has been running a pilot study, funded partly by grants from the state of California that in 2006 produced water for roughly the same price per gallon San Diego residents pay -- and using 1 kilowatt-hour less energy per 1,000 gallons than the State Water Project. The ADC project produced an average household's daily water demands using about as much energy as a PC."


* e.g., the Israeli Ashkelon desalination plant in 2009 was selling water at 52 cents a cubic meter (aka  metric ton of water), or about .2 cents per gallon

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