Visiting professor puts link between water and energy to the fore

AUGUST 20, 2016

As South Africa places a marked focus on energy production and finding alternative energy sources, Sweden’s Lund University Professor Gustaf Olsson raised awareness about the crucial link between water and energy at a public lecture at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on Thursday.

The lecture, which was the culmination of a four-day workshop with students from NMMU, Rhodes University and University of Fort Hare in conjunction with the Young Water Professionals, brought to the fore the important couplings between water, energy and food.

It showed how energy is used in various water cycle operations and how water is used – and often times misused – in energy production and generation.

Population increase, climate change and an increasing competition between food and fuel production create enormous pressures on both water and energy availability. Since there is no replacement for water, water security looks more crucial than energy security, Prof Olsson showed.

With about 70% of the world’s water resources used for irrigation and evaporation accounting for metres in decline in water levels, water is fast becoming a scarce – yet all important – resource.

To demonstrate how the world stood with water, Prof Olsson said: “If we were to disseminate the world’s water equally to all seven-billion people, each person would get 10-litres a day.”

Prof Olsson, a professor in industrial automation and professor emeritus at Lund University, has devoted his research to control and automation in water systems, electrical power systems and industrial processes, placing greater focus on the water-energy nexus in the last few years.

Prof Olsson made an example of the various water uses in his home country, showing how the bulk was used for pumping sewage (0.6 kWh/m?), then waste water treatment (0.25 to 0.5 kWh/m?), pumping to water works (0.24 kWh/m?) and drinking water treatment (0,22 kWh/m?).

Looking at the South Africa water-energy relationship, Prof Olsson highlighted solar and wind power generation, while mentioning the cons of hydraulic fracturing – a direction South Africa is exploring to create energy.

While at the university, Prof Olsson presented a workshop, where students were taken through the different aspects of paper writing and had time to interact directly with Prof Olsson.

To qualify, students had to submit a draft paper or extended abstract and were given tips on how to improve their research papers.

Research assistant Meredith Fernandes said: “The workshop was very interactive, with students sitting in group settings with ice breakers and presenting on their papers twice. Ms Tamsyn Sherwill, the editor of the journal Water SA, was also in attendance the last two days of the workshop to provide input from an editor’s perspective.”

The workshop was organised by the Young Water Professionals and funded by the Water Research Commission.