Water is like the weather in green tech: everyone talks about it, but no one ever does anything about it.
We might see increasing momentum, however, toward tackling problems associated with water if the annual survey from consulting firm Black & Veatch is any indication. The firm found that water management was one of the most significant issues facing utilities. In fact, water supplies were even a bigger concern than nuclear disposal or carbon regulation.
The rise of water as a concern likely has much to do with current events. Many regions around the country are limping through prolonged droughts. Power plants need water for cooling. In the past few years, some utilities have had to temporarily curtail certain plants in the Southeast because of a lack of water. The increased consumption of natural gas also poses challenges.
"You need significant quantities of water for hydraulic fracking," said Mark Gabriel, senior vice president at the consulting firm.
Many utilities, he added, "are right now investing in reclamation and how they can be more efficient."
Pundits at conferences over the past several years have touted the need for technologies for purification, desalination and water management. Several startups and established companies like Veolia have also attempted to fill the void. Water, however, isn't booming like solar. One reason is the customer base. Quite a bit of water technology gets bought by municipal water agencies, which tend to be extremely conservative and chronically short on funds. Some startups like Altela and 212 Resources have focused on selling to oil companies and mining outfits. (This segment of the water industry can be classified as "resource recovery".) The interest among utilities could open another revenue opportunity. Who knows?
Other interesting notes from the survey:
--The aging nature of the electricity infrastructure in America is a growing concern. Gabriel noted an Edison survey that predicts that nearly $1 trillion will get invested between now and 2030 in improving the transmission and distribution system.
--Natural gas is becoming the fuel of choice, but uncertainties -- volumes, prices, the size of available resources -- loom.
--Approximately 70 percent of the respondents strongly believe commodity and energy prices will rise significantly in the next five years, but only around 35 percent strongly believe that renewables will become "unquestionably competitive" with traditional fossil fuels in the same time frame. In fact, nearly 50 percent strongly disagree that renewables will hit that point in five years. Still, 60 percent see sustainability as a growing component of their business.
--Of those surveyed, 77.4 percent believe there is a future for coal with the economics are considered; 79.7 percent believe storage will move to the mainstream.
--Nuclear safety concerns have shot up dramatically.