Utilities see water demand outstripping supply by 2030
Wide-ranging water management efforts and large-scale investments must be made if utilities are to meet near-certain water stress—demand outstripping supply—by 2030, according to a new Economist Intelligence Unit study. The report, sponsored by Oracle Utilities and titled "Water for all?", considers the preparedness of utilities to supply water to the current global population of over 7bn people, with a further 1bn expected by 2030. The study compares strategies used by utilities in ten countries—the US, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Spain, Brazil, Russia, India and China—to meet this challenge.
The study is based on an online survey of 244 executives of water utilities in these countries, supplemented by in-depth interviews with 20 water utility executives and independent experts.
The research concludes that utilities worldwide expect to meet future demand despite increased pressure on supplies. Their optimism is based on an expectation that water productivity will improve and that utilities and governments will take a wide range of measures to ensure that water is used more efficiently. For example, the leading overall response to water stress in future is expected to be a sharp focus on demand management. This represents a shift in utilities' traditional emphasis on continuing to supply increasing quantities of water in response to increasing demand.
The research also reveals differences in the approaches taken by utilities in the six developed and four developing countries under study. In the face of climate change, utilities in the developed markets are focusing more attention on creating infrastructure capable of responding to changes in weather and demand patterns. Utilities in the developing countries, in contrast, are more likely to focus on rolling out or expanding basic infrastructure.
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- Increased water stress by 2030: Due to growing demand for water, caused by increasing populations, changing climate patterns and wasteful consumer behavior, 39 percent of executives surveyed believe that the risk of national water demand outstripping supply by 2030 is "highly likely," while 54 percent believe such a risk is moderately likely. Failure to address this could result in significant economic, social and health implications.
- Barriers to conservation: 45 percent of utilities – especially in developed markets – see wasteful consumer behavior as their biggest barrier to progress, while another 33 percent believe tariffs are too low to stimulate greater investment. In developing countries, a lack of capital for investment tops the list (41 percent), while worries over climate change stand third overall (34 percent).
- Encouraging consumer engagement: Half of respondents (49 percent) believe pricing structures need to be changed to encourage conservation, while under four in 10 water utilities think water prices must be held down to ensure fair access to water for all (38 percent). With consumer behavior being the biggest barrier to conservation, it is critical for water utilities to engage with consumers to overcome this challenge.
- Increased investment: Almost all respondents stated that they are increasing investment to meet supply challenges (93 percent), with more than one in five (22 percent) increasing investment by 15 percent or more within the next three years.
- Innovative industry: Prompted by necessity, the water sector is becoming an increasingly prominent innovator, due to the implementation technologies such as smart meters and desalination solutions. For instance, one fifth of water utilities in developed markets regularly evaluate new technologies, compared to a third of developing countries. However, more water utilities must improve their ability to identify and implement such advances, with over a third (36 percent) unaware of the innovation options available to them.
- Stumbling blocks: Drought and increased water pollution are seen by respondents as the biggest risks faced by water utilities, and are considered the most likely to occur. Similarly, half of respondents polled felt that that information and support from government bodies is lacking; while 43 percent recognize they must develop their management techniques to more precisely model future water availability or rainfall.
For more information, please contact:Candice van der Laan
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