Nine newly-funded REEEP projects are looking at innovative ways of using clean energy to create symbiosis between the provision of energy, food and water.

A stark challenge

The FAO estimates that the food sector accounts for 30% of total global energy demand, and that agriculture accounts for 70% of fresh water consumption by humans. By 2050 the world population will hit 9.1 billion, which means a 60% increase in food production over today. In parallel, 3 billion people currently depend on unsustainable biomass use for heating and cooking. Clearly, the issues of energy, food and water are deeply intertwined.

“We’re at a stage where silo thinking won’t lead to inspired solutions,” notes Eva Oberender, REEEP’s Programme Director, “In fact if you try to solve energy, food or water issues in isolation, it can easily harm the other two. In our latest cycle, REEEP is funding a range of projects that take a nexus approach –creating symbiosis rather than conflict. And as we learn from these highly varied situations, our intention is to build a larger-scale approach.”

Clean energy and water

The Sunflower Solar Pump is a prime example of how renewable energy can directly support agriculture. After REEEP helped to fund trials of this solar-powered irrigation pump in Ethiopia, a new project will now work with the company to build a distribution network for the highly efficient pump in Kenya, and also begin to market it in Burkina Faso.

Another REEEP project considers the energy and water issue at the municipal level, helping to identify profitable opportunities for installing mini hydro (100kW to 1MW) facilities on the existing water supply infrastructure in eThekwini (Durban), South Africa. By identifying sites and developing initial proposals for funders, Entura Hydro Tasmania and the municipal government hope to attract investment to support 2MW in total of new generation capacity.

Drinking water supply is also a major concern in India’s burgeoning towns, where the groundwater supply in industrial and peri-urban areas is often contaminated. Here REEEP is contributing to a project with Saurya EnerTech that will create a business model around a solar-powered water purifier using reverse osmosis technology, and set up five pilot centres to sell the clean drinking water through vending machines in areas where bottled water is the norm.

Clean energy and the food supply chain

In Tanzania where the waters of Lake Victoria are suffering from eutrophication, the Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (SEED) initiative will harness organic waste as a fuel for compact biogas systems. Local dairy producers, small restaurants and fish processors will benefit from the biogas supply in this project implemented by RONGEAD, a French development association. Less organic waste will be released into the environment.

The fishing industry is also a focus in an Indonesia-based project. This initiative by Contained Energy will finance solar-powered cold storage and ice-making facilities in small fishing ports, and help increase the sellable catch by 50% thanks to reduced spoilage.

Another food-related project in Indonesia seeks to scale up a proven energy efficiency pilot to 100 further micro, small and medium-sized tempe and tofu-producing enterprises.  The soybean processing sector is widely scattered and this Mercy Corps project aims to make energy efficiency work at the enterprise and cluster levels.

The emphasis on food preparation industries is echoed in a newly-funded project in Brazil implemented by EDS-Sustenergy.  Here, small and medium-sized dairy producers and cassava flour facilities will benefit from bio-digesters and biogas generation.  The aim is to use harness the waste in both industries to reduce wood consumption in cassava flour ovens by 50%, and achieve a 20% energy reduction in the dairy cluster.

In China, agriculture and food production is increasingly greenhouse-based.  A REEEP-funded pilot project with Tongji University will test the feasibility of using an ESCO model to finance heat pumps, solar hot water and stratified temperature control in these facilities.

In India, a REEEP-funded project implemented by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) is looking at jute-producing areas in Bihar which also have high rice production. Here the ready supply of biomass will be harnessed to produce electricity through gasification. It also creates women’s self-help group for the decentralised processing of jute, improving local livelihoods.

Bridging silos to symbiosis

“What we see here is an intentionally broad range of approaches that look at the relationship between food production , water provision and clean energy” says Oberender,“ and over the coming year, we’ll be looking at each of these initiatives in depth and share what we learn with our stakeholders.  One thing is clear: bridging silos to symbiosis is the way forward.”