Water and energy working together for sustainability: a study by the Enel Foundation and Althesys

Published on Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Water and energy are primary sources for all people. They have always been interconnected, and their link has become even more crucial today in the context of the fight against climate change. It’s an essential alliance in completing the energy transition sustainably and fairly on the one hand, and in safeguarding Italy’s water resources on the other.

The potential synergies, risks and opportunities for the future, national strategies for the safeguarding of water supplies and scenarios linked to climate crisis. These provide the focus of the study: “Energy for Water Sustainability. Sviluppare le sinergie elettrico-idrico per la sostenibilità (Developing Electric and Water Synergies for Sustainability).” It was prepared by Enel Foundation with Althesys, strategic consultants who specialize in key sectors such as the environment, energy and infrastructure.

The study was presented on October 21st during the webinar on “Energy for water sustainability 2020.” On that occasion Carlo Tamburi, Enel Head of Country Italy, took part in the round table on “La convergenza tra acqua ed energia, quale futuro?” (The convergence of water and energy, what is the future?) with Stefano Masini (Coldiretti), Edoardo Zanchini (Legambiente), Giordano Colarullo (Utilitalia) and Francesco Vincenzi (ANBI - Associazione Nazionale Bonifiche, Irrigazioni, Miglioramenti Fondiari, the National Association for Land Reclamation, Irrigation and Land Improvements).

Tamburi emphasized the role that water could play as a source of wealth for Italy when suitably promoted and recognized: “Water is blue gold, as the saying goes, the primary resource par excellence.” He added: “Promoting its mindful use is essential to producing sustainable energy and tackling the effects of climate change. It’s a strategic element that’s connected to the circular economy, the creation of production lines and building relationships with local areas.”

Hydroelectric energy, for example, should be contextualized in the setting of the energy transition to an emission-free generation mix: hydroelectricity, the prime renewable source, is a fundamental component in reaching this goal.

“The real benefit of this study - concluded Tamburi - is that it brings attention to the issue of water, one of the most important strands in the debate on the country’s industrial, energy and agricultural policy.”

The event’s keynote speaker was Stefano Besseghini, president of ARERA - Autorità di Regolazione per Energia Reti e Ambiente (the Italian Regulatory Authority for Energy, Networks and Environment), who underscored a central theme in the report: the role of energy in meeting water needs through the desalination of sea water. This solution, which is used mostly in Near and Middle Eastern countries with little freshwater and a wealth of energy resources, could be extremely useful in Italy, especially on the smaller islands and in the South, in areas at a greater risk of desertification due to climate change

This is the first study in Italy to outline practical measures for the development of synergies between the electricity and water sectors with the aim of tackling the climate crisis. The main findings were summed up by Alessandro Marangoni, Althesys CEO, and Giuseppe Montesano, Enel Foundation Deputy Director: improved joint management of the two resources could increase national electricity production by 5.9 TWh annually and water storage capacity by 2.8 billion cubic meters, which is the equivalent of 20% of the volume of Italy’s great reservoirs.

The study highlights that the benefits deriving from the multiple use of water are not limited to the environmental sphere but would also have positive effects on the energy and economic system.

Hydroelectric energy is the most important example, but other renewable sources, like wind and solar, can also play their part: with reduced water consumption, they could create savings, in Europe between now and 2030, of up to 1.6 billion cubic meters of water, the equivalent of the annual consumption of a country like Germany.

If the technology is ready, what is needed is an integrated approach with contributions from all the key players, so that the link between water and energy in Italy may become more fruitful and realize its full potential without further waste or obstacles.

Download the executive summary.

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