Investing in Sustainable Water Solutions

Investing in Sustainable Water Solutions

The journey towards water security “will always be a ‘work-in-progress’, as new challenges emerge in the urban environment”. This from Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the launch of Singapore International Water Week when an extra S$140 million was committed to water research, as cities around the world contend with issues such as weather extremities in the context of urbanisation, increasing water demand and higher public expectations.

For more reports on Singapore International Water Week go to

Jessica Cheam in Straits Times (5 July 2011):

Singapore has pumped fresh money into local water research to keep its edge as the leader in water technologies.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Monday announced that the National Research Foundation (NRF) will allocate another $140 million to promote research and development (R&D) in the water sector and to convert these ideas into practical water solutions.

Such investments are “imperative”, he said, “even if this means taking a long-term view, as the gestation periods can be long before the pay-offs to new technologies are realised”.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Singapore International Water Week, Mr Tharman shared with a 1,800-strong audience that the journey towards water security “will always be a ‘work-in-progress’ for Singapore, as new challenges emerge in the urban environment”.

These challenges are not unique to Singapore, he added, as cities around the world “will have to contend with issues such as weather extremities in the context of urbanisation, increasing water demand and higher public expectations”.

His comments come as Singapore has been experiencing flash floods across the island recently, which have caused traffic snarls and damage to properties worth millions of dollars. A panel of experts has since been set up to review Singapore’s drainage system and flood-prevention measures.

The new funds announced yesterday brings the total R&D budget for the water sector to $470 million.  In 2006, when the NRF was set up with a five-year $5 billion budget, it had set aside $330 million for water research.

Last year, the NRF received a $16.1 billion top up for research, innovation and enterprise under the Singapore Government’s recently heightened R&D push.

With these fresh investments, Mr Tharman said Singapore is hopeful that it will hit its goal of growing the economic contribution from the water sector from $500 million in 2003 to $1.7 billion by 2015. It also hopes for a doubling of jobs to 11,000 in the industry by then.

The NRF will allocate the funds to the Environment and Water Industry programme office, which was set up to convert research ideas into commercial water solutions.

Mr Tharman noted that under the NRF’s initiatives, some water projects funded include research into advanced membrane processes, bio-mimicry (technologies that mimic nature) and low-energy seawater deslination.

Mr Tharman told industry leaders at the four-day conference that collectively, the water community can surmount present challenges by improving on three areas.

The first is investment in technology and R&D. Secondly, cities can look at the challenges as opportunities to rejuvenate urban living, he said. He cited the Delta Programme in the Netherlands which acquires land for the temporary storage of excess river water. This doubles as parkland for recreational activities for most of the time when it is dry.

Singapore’s Active, Beautiful, Clean or ABC Waters programme – driven by national water agency PUB –  is a similar initiative which transforms “utilitarian drains and canals into beautiful and vibrant rivers and streams,” he said.

Thirdly, the industry needs closer collaboration between the public sector, academic and private firms, he said. One example is the Singapore-Delft Water Alliance set up in 2007 by the National University of Singapore, consultancy firm Deltares and PUB, which aims to develop solutions for the urban water cycle.

To date, there are 23 water research centres in Singapore set up by top industry firms such as Siemens and GE Water, he noted.

“By working across boundaries… we can potentially fast-track the development of solutions at a lower total cost, and make the challenge less daunting for everyone,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told the Southeast Asia Water Ministers Forum that issues of water management have become increasingly important across Southeast Asia as it is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events, due to their extensive and heavily populated coastlines.

“(The) forum is a stepping stone towards greater commitment in resolving some of these issues,” he said.


Business Times (7 July 2011):

Water and energy are inextricably linked and solutions to manage their scarcity ought to be better coordinated, industry leaders at the Water Leaders Summit yesterday said.

‘There is a growing realisation that we can no longer think about energy and water separately,’ said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, California.

He explained how it used to be believed that to cut dependence on imported oil, countries should look to biofuels to produce their own energy. But that led to water constraints and changes in food prices – implications beyond energy production.

‘The good news is that integrating energy, water and even food and climate policies, can yield much benefit,’ Dr Gleick said. He was part of the Water Leaders Roundtable yesterday, attended by more than 550 participants.

McKinsey & Company director Andrew Grant too, believes that the unprecedented pace of urbanisation brings ‘planning opportunities for joint development of urban water and energy solutions’ that has ‘never been seen before’, encouraging deeper private sector engagement too.

Siemens Water Technologies CEO Lukas Loeffler said that Siemens’ R&D innovations, based on future scenarios, include ones exploring the possibilities of integrating desalination and solar energy. And the use of dry cooling systems in oil refineries can be another means of bridging the water-energy nexus, said Alex Zehnder, director of the Alberta Water Research Institute.

Even in Saudi Arabia, where water is scarce and fuel plentiful, the fact that fuel is still finite drives regulation holding water players to certain standards of energy efficiency, said Thamer S Al-Sharhan, president & CEO, Marafiq Power and Water Utility Company.

Wrapping up the summit, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, too, stressed integration of water and energy solutions. Singapore’s new Tuaspring desalination plant, being built by Hyflux, will be co-located with a combined cycle gas turbine power plant, raising energy efficiency and cutting costs, he said.

And, large scale public private partnerships, such as this one, are examples of another form of integration – that between the public and private sector’s expertise and effort, Dr Balakrishnan said.

‘As far as policy is concerned, I have the strong impression that people know what to do, the key problem is the politics of implementation,’ he said. Singapore has had the ‘political luxury of rational decision making’ in shaping water policies, a key element of which has been to price water at its true cost.

It is crucial to exploit new technologies too, and Singapore will continue to ‘test-bed new technologies’, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Agreeing with one participant’s concern over the paucity of shared data, he added that the Singapore government is making datasets available on the portal for the private sector to create new applications, sieve out new insights, and churn out solutions.


One Response to “Investing in Sustainable Water Solutions”

  1. Great investing sustainable water solution.

Leave a Reply