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Low-Carbon Water Management

About the blog

Robert Brears
Robert is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley), The Green Economy and the Water-Energy-Food Nexus (Palgrave Macmillan), Blue and Green Cities: The Role of Blue-Green Infrastructure in Managing Urban Water Resources (Palgrave Macmillan)
  • Low-Carbon Water Management

Leading water utilities are decoupling water consumption from energy usage in the pursuit of a low-carbon water future.

Abstracting, treating, and conveying drinking water, and treating wastewater, requires a lot of energy. The energy used is mostly derived from traditional fossil fuel sources, such as coal, oil or natural gas. Energy production from these sources produce greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

Climate change is a direct challenge to water managers as it can induce severe droughts and floods, affecting groundwater and surface availability and quality. At the same time, providing water and wastewater services can contribute to further emissions. For instance, it is estimated that water utilities consume between 0.5–6% of regional energy produced and urban water management contributes up to 17% of regional greenhouse gas emissions.

San Francisco’s water efficient equipment retrofit grant

As the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a provider of water, wastewater, and energy services, one of its most important roles is to help customers use their energy as efficiently as possible. To decouple water consumption from energy usage, SFPUC offers a grant for non-residential customers to upgrade or replace their existing on‐site indoor water‐using equipment. Grants can be up to 50% of the project’s equipment costs, with a maximum amount of $75, 000 per project. The grants can be used for two types of retrofits:

  • Fixed water‐saving retrofit projects: This is the use of standardized equipment that results in predictable water savings
  • Custom retrofit projects: This consists of unique or site‐specific equipment retrofits that result in project‐specific water savings

Scottish Water’s water and wastewater-related games

Scottish Water is one of Scotland’s largest users of electricity, requiring around 445GWh to provide essential services to 2.49 million households and 152,000 businesses from over 4,500 operational sites. In response, Scottish Water has developed three fun games to raise awareness of the need to conserve water and related resources:

  • The Pipeline Challenge takes users on a journey of the water cycle: taking water from the environment, supplying water, and then returning treated wastewater back to the natural environment
  • The Clean It Up game lets users discover the treatment stages at a wastewater treatment plant
  • The Pumping Station game involves users controlling the water supply to all the people living in a block of flats with users experiencing the effort and energy required to supply clean tap water

Singapore’s smart meter trials

To meet future demand for water with today’s technologies, Singapore’s Public Utilities Board’s (PUB) energy footprint will need to quadruple from the current 1,000GWh/year to 4,000GWh/year. To reduce this demand, PUB is trialing a smart water network that will collect detailed data on household water consumption to build customer consumption profiles and identify consumption patterns and trends. The data will then be analyzed and provided to customers enabling them to monitor their water usage patterns and better manage water consumption. PUB will also enable customers to set water saving goals and track their performance. This is part of an experiment to see if game playing is more effective at engaging and motivating customers to conserve water rather than increasing water prices.


Transitioning towards a low-carbon water future requires water users to reduce consumption, as lower demand reduces energy usage and associated carbon emissions.

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