Friday, December 31, 2010

Water Energy Nexus

This is a post that I am writing in relation to a discussion on a LinkedIn group (Water Professionals) that has become quite interesting and is titled: 'What is the "Water Energy Nexus"'.

The discussion has evolved a bit and has arrived to a stage where maintaining focus on the central discussion sometimes becomes a bit complicated. However there are several things that must be said.

I plan here to attend each one of the points that I find are pertinent for me to discuss, as well as introducing some other relevant points, that have to do with the topic.

Vested Interests
The main challenge of this discussion is the presence of vested interests that are particular to certain industry or market segments, that obviously have an interest in establishing themes or topics to their benefit.

I will start by addressing a comment which is very simple.

To be or not to be, that is the question...
On my first comment in the discussion I stated that the Water Energy Nexus "should not exist", I maintain this. That it is does exist, surely it does, will it exist forever, it is very likely and probable, however this does not justify or approve it's existence.

Commenting to whether it "should" exist or not, is totally and absolutely pertinent, and does not distract whatsoever from the central point of the discussion, similarly as to saying: "should Polio or Small Pox exist?" Surely they do,  they have, they where a huge problem and scourge for humanity when they were prolific, today fortunately we can say they are pretty much under control, if not practically eradicated. I go further and postulate that we should treat the Water Energy Nexus probably in a similar manner.

There is a situation that undoubtedly is of interest to parties who stand to benefit from a Energy Water Nexus. In the measure there is more energy required, or needed to be sold, or bought, for that matter, there will be people interested in driving this agenda. Of course!!! The promotion of things much more unethical is not unheard of, lets take the tobacco industry for example, another example, it seems sad to say, but some people were even opposed to abolition, where people have an agenda they will push it. Not even a few decades ago have people were still defending segregation, not only in the US, but in Australia too, what used to be North and South Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe),  naming a few, even in South Africa the most recent example... what has this got to do with the Water Energy Nexus though? People will defend things that in hind sight may seem a bit odd, to say the least...

Then we must come and analyse energy then. What an interesting topic, especially now in current times. What is energy? The evolution of how energy has been managed over the years is amazing. From basic human power, to "transportable" and stronger animal power, to what was able to initially power the industrial revolution, a combustible solid, coal, that later gave way to oil and it's derivatives. The parties that controlled sources of energy, also controlled "power" in many more ways than one.

Our current generation has seen the appearance of renewable energy. What a fantastic development! Of many types of renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal... who knows how many more will become prevalent.

What is more interesting is the shift that Oil companies have done to become "Energy" companies, how amazing to see how companies like Chevron, now portray themselves as an environmental company! ( It never ceases to shock me when I see their TV commercials, not only when in the US, but also in Australia, also in India, in the Middle East, in South America, where the images are the same and all that changes is the accent of the narrator.

If I were an oil company I would do the same thing, it is very clever. The railway companies were never so smart, after the days of the railway barons. They failed to see that the business was a transport business, not the rail business.

In the same way businesses obviously try and make a business "environment" favourable for there business. A very good example is how General Motors bought and destroyed the California Transit System (, a bit more research will reveal a lot more. It may be "coincidence" that in the discussion we are talking about the same state? Some people say there is no coincidence, only causality. The interesting thing though was that it was not just GM and Ford, to benefit from the absence of a viable mass transit system, also to benefit from this was the Standard Oil Company. Who was to provide the fuel for the cars that would replace the rail system? Who was to supply the oil for lubrication in the engines and chassis of the cars? Who was to supply the rubber for the tyres? Who was to supply the asphalt for the constructions of the same very roads that the cars would roll on? Who was to supply the many synthetic plastic polymer based components that cars would come to be made of?

The appearance of renewable energy sources as viable alternatives is not something that the now "energy" companies love so much in that they are environmental solutions, as much as they will be able to sell a "product" that will never run out, it is literally like a hen who lays golden eggs, though even more so as this "hen" practically does not need to be fed, beyond performing minimum maintenance on the systems.

However this is not also an overnight thing. Renewable energy technologies have a lot more to be developed, they still has long way to go. In the meanwhile though sources of energy have to be assured and made safe for those who want them or need them.

Related to this I invite you to read The Grand Chessboard by Zbigniew Brzezinski.
This book is amazing, Mr. Brezezinski is not a common man, as his CV will tell, he has been the advisor to several presidents of the US. Here are the plans of how the above was to be achieved. It is very notable that just last week world news headlines stated that Iraqi oil production had reached a 20 year high... what a coincidence... (

Yes whichever way we look at it, there are people interested in conserving this Water Energy Nexus. Whether it be renewable energy or not is beside the point. If it is renewable then better, now if we are able to provide water with no requirement of energy that is the optimum situation. That is what I would advocate.

Superseding outdated infrastracture
What of the current infrastructure and the current existing system. What can I say?? That Southern California should not be abandoned? I totally agree, it should not. Could it be made self sustaining though? I would say probably, and even more so, without much expense. That also seems a bit amazing to state that one should not abandon something, from a country that replaced the Pony Express with copper wires and is now doing the same with fibre optics. To my knowledge the Pony Express ran for the last time in October 1861, it has not been missed, beyond a bit of nostalgia. The Pony Express was abandoned only for the benefit of the economy, likewise will happen with copper. Where a cost effective solution is to be found it will likely prosper, though it will find obstacles if there are parties who are not interested in someone else's prosperity but rather their own. Maybe it is better to use the word superseded, instead of abandoned, it has a more positive connotation.  Who knows what technology will replace fibre optics?

So how can this be done? Water without the Energy Nexus. What experience exists?

Experience related to different parts of the water cycle
At every stage of the water cycle things can be done in a sustainable way. However one of the greatest challenges is to have the correct, or rather a better or more adequate,  model of the water cycle.

A relevant document that illustrates this situation is a study done by the government of California:

To address a discussion of mentioning initially how the water cycle should be modelled for a sustainable outcome goes a bit more beyond a simple discussion in a forum or a blog post. How from this, each stage of can be managed in more sustainable manner, also goes beyond this scope. However it can be said simply that the technology exists and has been under development for practically more than 30 years, though it goes beyond just technology and involves mainly concepts and philosophy.

The best way to demonstrate experience is to show case studies:

It can be noticed that not only can we witness considerable amounts of experience in the different stages of the water cycle, there can also be seen experience in amounts of time, but also a significant variety of geography, going from desert climates, to tropics, to temperate regions and practically everything in between. I personally have experience directly in a number of these projects.

So what is the Water Energy Nexus?
As we can see there are several ways of answering this question. One is simply to say: "the amount of energy required for the management of water, including it procurement, processing, supply and distribution and posterior treatment." Another is to say that: it is a way to market energy related applications for water management... and then go on from there...

Interviewed in The Australian

Thes Blog entry is reposted from an Interview that I gave to the The Australian, a newspaper with one of the largest circulation in this country and was published on the 30th of December 2010.

THE world's cities offer enormous potential for creating greener environments that manage water better.
It just takes a little creative insight to figure out a cost-effective means of making it happen.
Green roofs are one solution, and an Australian company is becoming a big player.
According to Felipe Kovacic, executive director of Sydney-based water management company Atlantis Corporation, the appeal of roof gardens is more than just aesthetic.
"They also enable better stormwater management and reduce the so-called heat island effect," he said. "Our founder, Humberto Urriola, had a vision of transforming Sydney into a greener city by covering it with roof gardens."
Urriola may not have succeeded in creating the garden city -- yet. But the company he founded in 1986 as a landscape architect after emigrating from Chile is nonetheless an expanding provider of water management solutions.
Demonstrating that environmental solutions built on innovation and a big vision can generate sustainable business, Atlantis has taken its core product, a lightweight roof garden concept, across the globe.
Now with 54 patents and offices in Chile, Spain and the US, and distributors and installations in 30 countries, the company has developed a range of products for greening the world's cities.
About 80 per cent of Atlantis sales are now generated internationally. The group, which employs a multi-skilled team of environmental engineers, landscape architects and biologists, has provided water management technology to Sydney's Olympic stadium at Homebush, the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, a 42.3 megalitre water management system at the Dubai Sports City project, and a 2.1 megalitre stormwater management system at the Quilicura Mall in Santiago, Chile.
Green roofs can be designed to be an integral part of a new building, or can be installed on an existing building. They are less expensive than intensive systems, since they are lighter and require less structural support and less frequent maintenance. All parts of a complete green roof system are designed to support vegetation growth.
A green roof investment is a strategy against climate change events, such as increased rainfall, and there are genuine business reasons for companies to use them on their buildings. Countries such as Germany and cities such as Chicago and Vancouver are legislating for green roofs as well as vertical gardens.
Kovacic thinks that Atlantis has been successful not simply because people like "green" solutions, but because they are cost-effective.
He says that when dealing with engineers, architects and council employees, he has found that cost-effectiveness matters more than environmental effectiveness.
"We offer both." he said. "There is a reduction in the cost of stormwater management, reduced energy consumption and a reduced urban heat island. Property owners also benefit from the improved energy efficiency, less frequent roof replacement costs associated with a green roof, and a more attractive building that will retain tenants and possibly even generate higher rents."
Kovacic explains that a roof garden can reduce the heat island effect by 20-50 degrees Celsius, resulting in a two-degree reduction in surrounding ambient temperatures.
"Because it has vegetation, the green roof also absorbs a lot of water to reduce the run-off," he says. "It's like natural air-conditioning.
"When it rains, usually all the water is lost -- contaminated. It has to be treated as stormwater sewage that goes into the stormwater system and usually ends up contaminating our waterways and beaches.
"But the roof garden has the effect of capturing the run-off. Rather than 90 per cent run-off it reduces to 20 per cent."
Atlantis has developed a solution for underground water storage systems. Its Matrix Tank is a modular plastic tank that is one-third of the cost of a traditional concrete cistern. These are modular units that are flat packed. "They are highly scalable. We call ourselves the Ikea of landscaping," says Kovacic.
He says that one of the more exciting products that have come from the Atlantis product development team is the vertical garden. These are systems for creating vertical gardens on walls, as well as water filtration and purification units.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Created the Biological Footprint article on wikipedia

This was quite interesting, first of all I though that it would be easier to simply write what it was about, however being able to define exactly what it is and then give an overview was a bit more complicated.

I also find it notable that notable that no one had made a specific entry for this article yet, though it should not really be a surprise, the same thing is true for the Stormwater Harvesting article.

The reason I thought it was opportune is because in one of the presentations I do  mention the Bio Footprint as part of the environmental equation.
See slide 9.

The idea is to encompass, in detail, all of the factors that participate in the concept of Environmentally Neutral Design. There is quite a bit of information on Carbon footprints, Water footprints, even the larger subject of Ecological footprint, however not much in the detail of a biological footprint.

One might argue that this is simply the Ecological Footprint, I would however argue that Ecology is much more than "just" biology, though some define Ecology as a subdiscipline of Biology (

The theory behind the Ecological Footprint is an interesting one and what it proposes in analytical terms is also quite significant, though one could argue it is a bit reductionist in that it puts the whole world in terms of one number or ratio. The further breakdown in categories such as carbon, grazing, fishing, forestry, etc. and even built-up land, though this last category is in itself an unrenewable asset or resource, though impact mitigation methods can be implemented, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to sustain that this area can ever be feasibly or practically regenerated or renewed. Delving further into the model, analysing for example Figure 3 of the 2010 report the "States of Global Biodiversity" are expressed as 3: Terrestial, Freshwater and Marine, though these are obviously of relevance, however one should ask in relation to not only happens to air, not only it's biodiversity, but also the quality of the same, as it affects it's biodiversity.

The easiest way to justify and explain the Biological Footprint is saying that "Ecosystems create a biophysical feedback between living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) components of an environment that generates and regulates the biogeochemical cycles of the planet." ( The Biological Footprint concerns itself with living or biotic component. To further explain this contrast as Ecology, and hence the Ecological Footprint concerns itself with ecosystems, this also considers the nonliving or abiotic component which are not of the domain of the Biological Footprint.

One of the interesting things that I came across was how to define "life",this is not as simple as it may seem. Further Biological classification one would think is something that was fairly well established for quite a few years, the last iteration of the classification system occurred in 2004. This does not not consider forms of "synthetic life" ( yet, it will be interesting to see how these will be classified, though undoubtedly they should receive some differentiation, we may find that they will be assimilated into their "host" kingdoms.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sustainable Holidaying

This December we were lucky enough, with my wife, to get away for a few days from Sydney. Our basic idea was to go to Canberra, to see "our" nations capital, as Isabelle had not yet had the chance to visit.

As we were on holidays we were relaxing and did not really have as an objective to plan exactly were we were going. A bit of a contrast to my normal work life.

On our journey after staying in Jindabyne, we headed for Batemans Bay, we wanted to stay there, however "unluckily" all of the places were booked out and we started looking around for where else to stay. Eventually we called ahead and found a place in a small "town" or even village of South Durras, which is 15 km North of Batemans Bay.  It's normal permanent population is about 400 people. The place where we were going to stay was the BIG4 South Durras Holiday Park. We managed to find the last spot for tents for that day.

View Larger Map

What was so interesting about visiting this park that is so worth writing about? Well I found out the it is a water sustainable holiday park. What was more interesting is that that the managers went about this in a very unassuming way, for them it was something normal. When we checked in, they told us that the water in the park was rain harvested tank water, that if we wanted to drink it that we should boil it. This was a "bit" novel.

This is where we set up our tent, right next to 2 water tanks
that collect water from the roofs.

All of the water served through taps is rainwater harvested tank water.

The water for the showers and WCs is from bore water.

This is the amenities block. From these, the black water, from the WCs, goes to a septic tank, from which the effluent goes into an infiltration trench for leachate absorption. The grey water, from the showers, skips the septic tanks and goes into the infiltration trench. The infiltration area is located in the back of the holiday park where the trees and vegetation are able to "consume" and absorb the leachate, eventually the purified water will re-enter the water cycle, either through evapotranspiration or by going into the aquifers.

The septic tank is cleaned from solids when required, that can usually be every 12 months.

Rainwater harvesting tank of the men's amenities block.

Water tanks that harvest from the roof and supply the holiday
park's kitchen.This is an authentically practically  closed
water cycle, with no requirement for energy. Here the "energy
water nexus" has been broken.

Not only has the water footprint of this development been
negligible, but also the biological footprint. As we can see
that kangaroos are happy to share in the presence of guests,
they have not gone away, being a testimony of  reduced, if
not practically non-existent, impact on the environment. 

Practically every raised horizontal surface is to capture
rainwater that is then managed in a decentralized manner.

Bruce and Kay, the managers of the park, should be congratulated on the water sustainable development they administrate.

They have a capacity of about 70,000 litres of above ground water storage and are able to provide enjoyable accommodation to more than 400 people when the holiday park is at full capacity. This is amazing considering that the town of South Durras itself has a permanent population of about the same number. It does this with a water footprint of practically 0. It captures and reuses as much water as it needs, it discharges no contaminated water, be it stormwater, greywater or blackwater. Its roads are of permeable gravel, and it's hard surfaces capture water. Greywater and Blackwater is managed on site. It has no pipes going in and no pipes out carrying contaminated water. All of the water management is done with practically no power consumption except for a few small pumps that have a minimum power consumption.

This is an example of how sustainable water management can be done, in a not too complex way, on a commercial scale. Many people say that this sort of application is not complicated on a small domestic scale, however to do something larger is more problematic. This is proof that it can be done on a larger scale, what is more these are totally scalable solutions.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Updated Water supply on Wikipedia

Interesting how the Water supply article for Wikipedia, has no mention of water harvesting or decentralized water infrastructure.

There is a tremendous amount to contribute. There is also a lot to comment on "Fit for Purpose", how can it be that 100% of the water that normally we consume in developed countries, also has to be of potable quality. The normal justification or excuse we hear is that it is for health, safety and sanitation reasons, these seems a bit too convenient. Around the country we always rainwater harvesting tanks, that are used for potable purposes... why is it that in the country it is okay to drink harvested water and in the city not?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Remediation of Lagoa Rodrigo da Freitas

While visitin in Brazil we had a look at the Lagoa Rodrigo da
Freitas. What we saw was shock and obviously has no simple or easy solution.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

On the way to South America

Off to Chile and Brazil for business. Will be seeing clients and suppliers in Chile and in Brazil participating in an Australian Business Trade Mission related to sports to provide sustainable sports fields. Will be interesting to see how the distributor I set up in Brazil has advanced, as well as to see how we can continue to grow and go forward implementing sustainable technologies.

One of the things I always look forward to is learning how they do
things in other countries and how we can apply and incorporate that knowledge in our applications. Always very satisfying is seeing how we positively affect others and in turn the environment of countries and places so far away.

Will have weeks interesting ahead.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Added stormwater harvesting to Reclaimed water article on Wikipedia

I find it amazing how this article, in spite of being one orientated to an topic of sustainability, does so little to explain sustainable practices. Sometimes the simplest and easiest things go unpercieved as viable options.

We often see that often people don´t believe or understand and reusing stormwater or rainwater can be so simple, and that effective and efficient use of that water can be made in a cost effective manner.

People want to be able to press a button so that a machine can do something, that something goes in one end and a product comes out the other end, that it should require maintenance, etc...

I believe, or rather know, that if things are designed correctly, they should not really need maintenance because they simple don´t require it, they should also function in a sustainable manner. Going deeper into sustainability is another topic. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Added Water Sector to the Sustainable Design wikipedia article

Contributed today to wikipedia on the Sustainable Design entry. One of the main things I have observed in water management is the lack of concience in terms of consumption, from a general aspect to what is consumed for drinking.

How can it be that 100% of the water we consume, to water our gardens, wash the car, wash our clothes, etc... has to be of drinking water quality. Only very recently in Australia has some change been seen in this, with incentives to store water with Rainwater Harvesting. However these incentives have several sources, some are quite political and related to water restrictions and the imperative of offering solutions to citizens that seem so obvious.

The concept that is being promoted today is "fit-for-purpose", which seems much more reasonable than what used to managed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Welcome to the ESD blog!

In my career working in environmental systems, it always impresses me how little is known about Environmentally Sustainable Design, even among people who are supposed to manage this concept very well and because of what they do have the ability to affect the lives of many people. The main purpose of this blog is to share views with relevant stake holders who need to know about good ESD or Environmentally Sustainable Design.

One of the things that most impress me is how recent this concept is.

In Australia the first formal government recognition of this concept may date from May 2007 and can be found the Ministry of the Environment website:

The first article Wikipedia to have the name Sustainable Design was published in April 2003, and was literally only 4 lines long. Today you will see the Sustainable Design entry has changed some.

I plan to educate interested people, step by step, about this and my first action has been  to create the Wikipedia entry for Stormwater Harvesting, differentiating it from Rainwater Harvesting.

People may say that this is a small difference, however I would beg to differ. Many of the environmental problems we have today stem from a problem in the misuse of language. We have to call "things" what they are, and not something else.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Arable land and presenting in Bangkok

The distributor for Thailand of the company I work with organized a seminar that was on Green Cities, I was invited to give a presentation and chose as the topic Environmentally Neutral Design, which was a presentation that I have given quite a bit.

What is intersting about visiting and travelling, is not only what one can teach or share knowledge with other people, but also what one can learn. Sometimes these are problems and sometimes solutions, ocassionaly one does not have the answers to the problems immediately, however they do come after some time.

Our distributor is a subsidiary of a quite large company or corporation and they have quite an impressive building in the middle of Bangkok, and of the day of the seminar they had a lunch on the top floor of the corporate building with quite an interesting view. I took some photos of what could be seen.

Though one could think it was impressive, it wasn't really very beautiful to look at.

The lunch was very good and we were quite honoured that we had with us a VP of the company as well as directors and of the 2 other people presenting was a professor with a PhD on the subject of the environment.

In the conversation that we had, as we were talking about the environment, sustainability and related topics. One of the senior people of our distributor in the conversation made a comment in relation to how he had read a book and that it stated that if the population was growing at the rate that it presently was we would need another planet, just to be able to provide for the necessary food resources (this is a concept that has become to be called Ecological Footprint).

However I did not agree with him, I asked a question of the people that were at the table. "Of the land that we are seeing out side of this window, how much of it is arable land?", people looked at me with blank faces, "Doctor, is any of this land arable?" this answer was no, this was an urban landscape.

"I am sorry but today every single square centimetre of this land surface could become arable", and looking to our distributor "and you sell the technology to do so".

It was interesting to see how a light bulb had turned on, with a sudden understanding.

This was interesting for several reasons. One should never take for granted that the people who one works with will know or understand what one knows, no matter how long one has been working with them. That people, no matter how many studies or degrees they have or are people of reference, it does not necessarily mean that they are experts either. Having not had "much" experience  in the industry how one easily see things that other people don't, this not having that much experience may be an advantage.

A photo of now "arable" land in an urban landscape.

With our vertical garden systems, further transforming urban landscape to "arable" land.

The conversation was interesting that it give me precisely something more to talk about.
I was able to give the example that of that very city, still much could be done in terms of reducing the Ecological Footprint, that much could be done for water management. That practically every surface, be it horizontal or vertical could literally be "greened", in a sustainable manner.