A new sustainable future for water in Australia

There is a step change occurring in water infrastructure and servicing that will ensure Australia leap frogs into the next technological horizon unencumbered, cementing its place as a global leader and building the foundations for the future.

By deregulating its water industry markets, rethinking the way water infrastructure is funded and the regulatory drivers supporting alternatives to the public sector, Australia is creating an exciting opportunity for the private sector to innovate.

This is leading to an important shift away from an outdated centralised water infrastructure of the past towards an innovative decentralised future and the creation of new private water utilities.

This shift has been aided by a number of significant and State based initiative including: the NSW Water Industry Competition Act (WIC Act); a move to similar legislative changes in other States; the Office of Living Victoria’s push for decentralised water solutions; and dynamic recycled water schemes driven in partnership by the public and private sectors.

Private water utilities are driving significant change in water servicing. They are unencumbered - with no legacy policies or infrastructure prohibiting new approaches. They have an ability to learn from the mistakes and approaches of the public utilities and their centralised infrastructure and investment models. They are able to use to their advantage the changing business environment, focusing on opportunities and new financing options.

New metering technology is able to show customers how much water they use. For example, for hot water, uses inside and outside the house and during specific times of the day. Coupled with interactive dashboards and apps, people will become much better informed about how much water they are using and what they can do to reduce the quantity used and the associated costs.

Terry Leckie

Private water utilities are able to engage at a different level for procurement and technical solutions. They are also able to develop innovative water infrastructure solutions with developers, residents and communities – resulting in more bespoke and localised solutions that protect both local water quality and the interests of the community.

Private sector participation has also meant the opportunity of alternative funding solutions – a reduction in the amount of capital funding required up front to deliver water infrastructure, a shift in operational risk away from the public sector and off Government balance sheet, the ability to invest and spread out payments for water infrastructure over time, and the ability for communities to co-invest in infrastructure to extract revenue over time.

One of the huge opportunities yet to be fully realised is the significant benefit to customers. Private utilities, through new innovations and technologies, are able give customers more control over their water usage and to better inform them of their water usage patterns enabling financial savings and behavioural change.

Remote telemetry and individual metering can track and map the water usage trends for apartments, homes, shops, offices as well as for the whole building. New metering technology is able to show customers how much water they use. For example, for hot water, uses inside and outside the house and during specific times of the day. Coupled with interactive dashboards and apps, people will become much better informed about how much water they are using and what they can do to reduce the quantity used and the associated costs.

While most public utilities are indicating consumer water efficiency gains are reducing, the private sector is proving the opposite: This is only the beginning of water efficiency - major gains can continue to be made through education and the uptake of existing and future water savings devices.

The private sector is also facilitating options that increase customer ownership and involvement in water solutions, for example in shared water schemes.

More importantly, unlike the public sector, the private sector is not exclusively focused on dams and desalination. It is more interested in extracting value from the entire water cycle –how to make revenues from rainwater, stormwater, groundwater and wastewater and in turn create new secure sources of drinking and non-drinking water.

Building dams and desal and the massive and costly infrastructure required to pump drinking water over long distances to communities, then pump back the waste byproduct, are no longer efficient, effective or environmentally suitable. Communities are looking to better utilise their local water sources, to be greener and more cost effective - and the private sector is helping them realise these outcomes.

By acting on this disconnect, the private sector is able to deliver more affordable solutions that harness waste on site. In particular, decentralised recycled water and Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) systems are making this affordable for the first time.

Developers are also baulking at high upfront capital investment for centralised water infrastructure and the long delays for public approval process. They want choice, and they are getting it from the private sector, with more flexible and faster water infrastructure.

Through decentraslised solutions, the private sector is able to extract value from the water cycle for developers, government and the community.

Decentralised systems are ensuring local water stays within the community delivering all the benefits that accompany a secure water source – enhanced ecology and environment, greener recreational spaces all year, smaller trunk infrastructure, better local water management systems bespoke to individual communities.

The benefits of private water utilities in Australia are proving compelling: releasing encumbrance, new thinking without legacy, grassroots participation, stronger environmental outcomes – all the platform for cities and communities of the future.

This new approach will be even more necessary if Australia is to meet its own growth demand and navigate less favourable climate outcomes - longer hotter dry spells, more intense climate events and changes in rainfall patterns. Future growth and prosperity across the economy, including agriculture and industry, is depended on a sustainable water future.

That future is now becoming a reality thanks to an enhanced role for private water utilities in Australia.

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