Transformation to a sustainable water future
Covid-19 continues to have a profound and indiscriminate effect on all of Asia and the world. Specifically, with safe water access of utmost priority during these challenging times, it has brought global attention to how critical our water systems are to our health and prosperity.
The pandemic has highlighted the unique challenges each country faces with water, from water disruptions in cities to inadequate water infrastructure in more rural and remote areas.
A major catalyst for our water challenges is climate change. For most people, especially in Thailand, their experience of climate change is through extreme weather events, such as intense rainfall, flooding and frequent drought. But it has also been a silent killer in drastically diminishing our limited natural resources amid global warming.
The relationship between water and climate change is a complex one. Water processes call for significant amounts of energy, from treatment to transport. The use of fossil fuels to meet this demand leads to greater greenhouse gas emissions that subsequently contribute to climate change.
This is why we must critically examine the vulnerabilities and inefficiencies in our water systems to ensure that we make the most of the limited natural resources we have while reducing our emissions.
Innovation with a sustainability mindset is key to overcoming our water challenges, with a focus on building resilient communities.
At the top of the agenda is addressing inequality in water access. Access to safe water is a human right, and yet rural communities and residents of informal settlements in urban areas still struggle with access to adequate water infrastructure. For many households, water sources are distant, contaminated or expensive, and household sanitation is unaffordable.
Remote areas lack the infrastructure to generate enough power to transport water, demanding a system that is both efficient and sustainable. Solar energy can be a game-changer to address this issue and power water pumping stations, allowing them to draw water from various sources to meet the needs of families and communities, while ensuring a zero carbon footprint operation.
In 2015, to improve access to clean water in rural Thailand, Grundfos worked with King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL) to turn river water and surface water into drinking water for the residents in 15 villages, meeting the needs of around 30,000 residents.
Similar solar-powered solutions have made a positive impact in other Asian countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and India.
Beyond improving access, we need to identify how we can use our resources across all aspects of our lives more wisely, so we continue to have enough for everyone. A key pillar is the agriculture sector, which has wide-reaching impact across the livelihoods of many Thais.
Technology has the potential to improve productivity and uplift farmers and the sector. Agriculture is responsible for 70% of Thailand's water usage, and is the highest energy consumer among all industries.
Processes like irrigation, which lifts and moves water around farms using pumping systems, consumes a lot of energy. Incorporating technology into agricultural systems can ensure water use is optimised and less pumping is required, which can make a huge difference in energy used overall.
Beyond agriculture, intelligent technology can also play a role in improving water and energy efficiency across a number of industries, which is also important as Thailand pursues Industry 4.0 opportunities. Water reuse and wastewater treatment can play an integral role for the future of our water security.
Last but not least, we need to look at our cities and homes. Half of Thailand's total population now live in urban areas, but existing systems are not equipped to meet today's challenges, highlighting the enormous need for increased investment in water infrastructure.
Water plays many roles in our buildings, from cooling, heating and fire protection to landscaping. Hence, it is imperative to examine how we can reduce the impact of our built environment.
To tackle this, companies like Grundfos have been tirelessly pursuing digitisation and artificial intelligence to come up with water solutions that are more intuitive and connected, enabling greater water and energy efficiency by only using these resources when demand calls for it.
Through the Internet of Things, advanced real-time data collection and sensors, water networks can access information that allows them to operate in a more predictive manner. This not only optimises resource use but also helps reduce downtime, further avoiding serious business and environmental consequences.
Technology can also empower Thailand at a household level. The advancement of smart home solutions today now means that homeowners can enjoy a sustainable home that is both energy- and water-efficient, and not worry about sacrificing convenience or comfort.
In order to work against the trajectory of global warming, our climate action efforts need to focus on efficient water management. The next 10 years is a critical period to build resilience and shape our water systems to meet ongoing challenges and be prepared for future crises.
This transition not only calls for technological changes, but also acknowledging that everyone has a part to play -- whether it is the government, businesses, communities or people, moving from passive consumers to playing a more active role in managing our water demand wisely.
By ensuring a collective approach in addressing the gaps in our water systems, we can achieve a sustainable transition that pays off for the whole nation.
Poul Due Jensen is the CEO of Grundfos, the world's largest pump manufacturer, based in Denmark.