Sustainability In Water-Food-Energy
Application of Systems Thinking to Sustainability Challenges. A Water-Energy-Food Nexus
In today’s world, the systems of water, energy, and food are tightly bound to each other, although many people do not notice it. For the proper development of these resources, considering this interaction is of great importance. The interdependence of these three resources directly affects the environment and ecology, especially in large cities. Lack of energy, like no other, influences food production and delivery. The heating of water requires enormous amounts of energy. Such problems as hot water supply and energy efficiency as well as challenges and opportunities of water-food-energy nexus must be closely investigated since water-food-energy system is the most significant in today’s economics.
Role of Systems Approach
Since making changes in one unit of the nexus directly and immediately affects two others, it is essential to take the systems approach. Without water, one would not be able to produce energy and grow, make, conserve, or prepare food. Using food wastes, engineers produce bioenergy and rebuild the soil. With no energy, there would be no common access to water and all processes that are applied to food production nowadays (Otto, 2013). If these sectors are considered separately, the world problems of insufficient drinking water, lack of energy and food will definitely not be solved. Thus, the “water, food and energy nexus has to be concerned as one system” (RMSI 2009, p. 4).Consequently, the systems approach may save many resources and costs.
Hot Water and Energy Nexus and Its Efficiency
Energy, which is used to provide water-related services, and water, which is used for generate energy, have created a separate water-energy nexus. Thus, water is used to mine coal, produce electricity, and drill oil. These resources, in their turn, help pump, transport, and heat water (Hussey & Pittock, 2012). Thus, water and energy nexus is important for such modern amenities as hot water. Having constant access to hot water may be considered as one of the conveniences of modern society, and it is irreplaceable in everyday household. Nevertheless, not only it is used in everyday life for various purposes, but also some largest industries in manufacturing, residential, and CI (Critical Infrastructure) require hot water. Thus, this resource is indispensable for modern society.
The production of hot water is the second largest consumer of energy in commercial and residential sectors. Consequently, it is essential to make water and energy nexus more efficient in order to achieve the mutual benefits of this correlation. To improve the efficiency of this nexus, plenty of strategies have been developed as well as are in development in different countries. All of them have an aim to save water and energy resources in order to improve the climate by reducing greenhouse effect and lowering gas emissions, to decrease water pollution that influences the environment negatively, and to lower significantly the economic cost of water and electricity (Maas, 2010). Nevertheless, these strategies need some practical implementation.
One of possible effective and well-planned strategies for energy efficiency is water recycling. For example, to prove the usefulness of this strategy, the government of Canada organized some researches on water and energy saving. Such experiments were made throughout in Ontario, where “a report identified water saving opportunities that could reduce water use by 46% for the residential sector, 36% for the commercial and institutional sector, 41% for municipal water loss and 16% for the manufacturing sector” (RMSI, 2009, p. 33). This shows that recycling water can efficiently help the economy.
Another strategy is choosing resource-efficient technologies. In agriculture, these could include innovational irrigational systems, decentralized systems of sewerage, or collecting rainwater. This strategy allows to improve the use of already available resources, and it often needs little or no costs for amelioration. Not only will the introduction of innovatory tools reduce the waste of water and energy, but it can also improve the speed and quality of the implementation of certain agricultural processes.
Energy and Water in the City
At city level, there are exist some strategies since every year, urbanization increases and cities need more and more water and energy supplies. Such a state of things strongly affects the environment and the quality of city life. The economical side of increased use of water and energy results in their increasing costs. Due to this, a strategy of integrated urban planning has been introduced. Specifically, it consists of proper innovatory technologies of building ecologically safe houses that consume up to 80% less energy than regular ones. The cost of such a construction is lower than that of regular buildings, but the inconvenience is that it is impossible to make such structures very tall. This strategy is more suitable for the buildings with 3-4 floors.
Innovatory technologies can also help reduce the amount of needed energy in cities since they consume less electricity, gas, petrol, and other energy resources, which positively influences the rate of pollution. However, the complete substitution of old devices requires enormous expenditures. Therefore, this is the main drawback of this approach as city governments do not always finance projects in this sphere. Nevertheless, the convenience is that every citizen has the ability improve their home by themselves, which would change the situation greatly.
As for personal experience, such a strategy as installing water and energy reducing devices works as well. Everyone is capable of placing water pebbles, gathering rainwater, or installing bathwater diverters, which might eventually prove quite cost-efficient. Such gadgets cost low, they effectively decrease the usage of water use, and they are available in every supermarket. The only disadvantage of this strategy is the indifference of many people to environmental situation. Many city residents do not care about recycling or water saving, so for them, changing their daily habits to save water or energy is not acceptable.
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Challenges and Opportunities of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus
There are various theories of water-energy-food nexus. However, all of them are based on the interdependence of resources. For example, Gulati, Jacobs, Jooste, Naidoo, and Fakir (2012) claim that “The question is how the demand for one resource can drive demand for another. And in the same way, how the cost of one resource can determine and change the cost for the other one” (p. 155). These spheres are connected in the closest way. possible In many countries, especially developing ones, the problem of rising food prices is rather acute and it will only become worse with time. Lack of water, like in African countries, is directly connected with energy insufficiency since it affects food production. Consequently, these factors result in poor living conditions of people.
However, the leading world countries have also faced the challenges of the interdependent water-energy-food system. Insufficient amount of produced energy results in lack of water purveyance that includes not only technical water but also drinking one. The amount of energy, obtained from North American water plants, is less than its consumption rate. Consequently, taxes and prices rise distinctly as well. However, if the government balances the water-energy-food systems approach precisely and correctly, stability in this nexus could be reached rather quickly.
Water-Food-Energy Nexus Nowadays
Nowadays, scientist and scholars from all parts of the world discuss the questions regarding the water-food-energy systems approach. The debates are based on improving the ecological situation that has deteriorated for decades, on helping raise the economical point of the nexus by applying various theories and approaches to it, and on looking for the ways to find alternatives in emerging problems in this sphere (Reddy, Cunha, & Kurian, 2018). Researchers seek for opportunities to save ecosystems from the disastrous human influence on them in order to reach water efficiency, produce enough energy and food. Some studies are financially supported by the government to bring a new light to such aspects of the nexus as hydrology as well as civil, electrical, and environmental engineering. Nevertheless, all of them agree that it is essential to consider the water-food-energy nexus as one unit, one system of interrelated factors that cannot exist without each other.
As can be seen from above discussion, water, energy, and food subjects are tightly bound to each other in economical aspect and are viewed as a complex. One of the biggest challenges of today’s water-energy relations is the production and supply of hot water. In cities, the best way to develop the efficiency of energy and water usage is prompt people to be concerned about saving the environment and cutting the cost of the water and energy hey consume. New opportunities and strategies to develop water-food-energy nexus are explored constantly, but new challenges also emerge all the time. Making the systems approach to this issue more efficient requires the joint work of all world community.