Edward Guiliano, Ph.D., President, New York Institute of Technology, delivered opening remarks at "The Water-Energy Nexus: Sustainability and Global Challenges" conference held in Beijing today.
Ni hao. Welcome to NYIT’s first joint conference with Peking University under the auspices of our EcoPartnership. It is a pleasure to see you all here.
I first came to China in 1999 and what my eyes have seen each year since then is amazing.
The growth of China has been the most-followed news event of the 21st century. It’s ahead of the killing of bin Laden — in second place — as well as 9/11, the Arab Spring, and the Iraq War.
And today, people trade more with China than with any other country.
So when former Premier Wen Jiabao called water shortage a threat to the “survival of the Chinese nation,” it mattered to everyone.
We live in a world that’s not just interlinked, but interfused. If North China can’t get enough water, it matters in Nebraska. As a Chinese proverb says, “With one bee, there is no honey.” So transnational water partnerships like ours on display today are essential, bringing together governments, universities, NGOs, and corporations.
For instance, across the globe we need more regional systems to control water. Partnerships like ours will help develop models of water management that use science to support smart policies.
Wastewater treatment is key to bolstering the supply, yet we often overlook it. Partnerships like ours will improve it.
We need water to extract and process energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas — and we need it at every step of the way. Weaken the water-energy nexus and the world’s assembly line slows. Partnerships like ours can help prevent that.
Clearly, the planet needs more clean, accessible drinking water. Here, the water-energy nexus is most visible. As we learn how to bring more reliable and renewable energy to more people — we make clean water more available to them. Partnerships like ours will help create systems that are efficient, cost-effective, and easily distributed. The impact will be transformative.
As we all know, water is basic to energy. And forecasters say world energy demand will increase 56 percent by 2040. In China it will more than double. So those of us in the room appreciate water looms more and more as a bottleneck.
Yet plenty of haze surrounds the details of the water-energy nexus. Last year, a Stanford University study found major quote “gaps and limitations” unquote in our knowledge of the synergies between water and energy use and conservation. And Stanford looked only at the traditional technologies.
Today the world faces two big challenges.
The first is the new technologies for reaching fossil fuels — like deep-water wells, oil shale, and oil sands — that are coming online. Barron’s recently estimated that they will cut the price of oil to $75 a barrel. But they place an even greater demand on water for energy production, and we know less about the nexus here. Hydrofracking is a debate that is just beginning. Will these technologies add to our dependence on conventional energy and, if so, how will we provide the water they need? Proximity between water sources and energy sources becomes a challenge. North China is rich in shale gas and South China is rich in water, for instance. Transportation becomes a challenge, leading to diversion of large amounts of water between regions.
The second challenge is climate change. Already it’s spinning weather patterns around. The snowpack is dwindling in much of the American West, and so is the water supply. The interior of China is the greatest fresh water resource on earth. Huge rivers flow outward in all directions. Yet the glaciers are shrinking and, between 2000 and 2010, China’s available water had dropped 13 percent.
Hence the uncertainties are growing, especially when urbanization and the demands of megacities come into the mix.
Most of the earth’s water molecules were formed in outer space, and we won’t get more of them. So how will we live with a fixed amount of water?
Water re-use is one answer. If we can use water from one river twice as often as we do today, we create a second river.
Infrastructure improvement is another answer. Less developed nations use more water than developed ones, per unit of production. But they will become more water-efficient, partly because of conferences like this one.
Research and innovation are still other answers. The frontier here seems to reach the horizon in both directions, so we have a huge opportunity to improve understanding.
Today, a bit of the research and expertise within NYIT’s School of Engineering and Computing Sciences will be on display. We are a 21st-century global university with seven schools and colleges. We offer undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees in more than 50 fields of study; in addition to engineering and computing sciences, they include architecture and design; arts and sciences; education; health professions; management; and medicine. Our faculty is increasingly engaged in research, and we involve our students at every opportunity.
NYIT has long played a conspicuous role in the global discourse on water. For instance, in 2008 we held the International Water Conference at the UN. Since 2009, NYIT’s Center for Global Health has organized visits to Ghana, partly to explore new ways to bring water to villages and health clinics. And in 2012, we held the “Water Management and Global Challenges” conference here in Beijing.
We are proud of our ties with China, which go back decades. We have over 2,000 alumni living here, half of whom have earned an M.B.A. In New York, we are home to 300 students each year from China, including some who come to us in exchange or dual-degree programs. We also have over 1,000 students of either Chinese or American origin studying in China.
And the emerging water-energy nexus theme is an intrinsic part of the broader US-China EcoPartnership program.
This joint program goes back to the agreement in 2008 between China and the U.S., the Ten Year Framework for Cooperation on Energy and Environment. Government agencies on both sides are implementing an array of action plans, and EcoPartnerships like ours are bringing people together to share ideas and spark new technology solutions.
Our EcoPartnership is an impressive team. Members include NYIT, Peking University, Wuhan University, and the International Society for Water Solutions of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, as well as companies like HDR and Cameron Engineering.
Together, we will address severe groundwater shortages and contamination in select sites in China. We are focusing on three technologies, which address broad questions.
First, where is groundwater most abundant? NYIT is developing an integrated web-based tool, through the Green Technologies Laboratory of our Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center, in collaboration with Wuhan University. It will combine water-table data from varied sources, so communities in arid parts of China can understand where available groundwater sites are located.
Second, how is groundwater faring near established and newly dug wells? HDR has a remote telemetry project to collect and analyze such data. The company has developed similar systems in many parts of the world and will use its experience to help implement them in China.
Third, how can we better monitor and control groundwater pollution? Peking University’s Center for Water Research has developed a system that simulates groundwater flow. It is a powerful tool for modeling how deeply pollution will infiltrate aquifers, and when and where it will spread, so we can see the scope of the problem. Many nations across the world have already deployed it, and Peking University will now strengthen it further.
More broadly, we face myriad challenges — and higher education will be crucial to solving them. University research has always led to big solutions. For instance, the Green Revolution came from within academia, ultimately, and brought a cornucopia to our markets and dinner tables.
Most nations, including the U.S., know too little about how unregulated chemicals in drinking water affect public health. What are the risks from traces of medications that end up in drinking water, such as hormone-disrupting chemicals and chemicals from consumer products like fire retardants? Universities will help us find out.
Of course, universities do more than research. They are training grounds. At NYIT, we teach our students about water issues and sustainability strategies, and they go into the world to help, and to explain new advances to co-workers and friends. We also spread information through our global system of campuses.
Universities are bastions of legitimacy as well. People trust us, and our work can change public notions about new approaches. It’s hard to solve a public problem if the public doesn’t understand it.
For instance, most people have little water awareness. Even in this very room, some people may not realize how many liters they use in an average month. The average person may know their water bill, but not the consumption. Universities can help increase awareness all around.
In 2003, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a “Blue Revolution,” akin to the Green Revolution, to improve global management and sharing of water. He noted that water problems have often been a catalyst for cooperation among peoples and nations. We see that clearly here today.
Water wars are possible, but cooperation makes far more sense. In our global market, other people’s prosperity is ultimately our own. So wherever the water-energy nexus improves, the world benefits.
Today we’ll explore questions basic to our well-being and our future. They relate to energy efficiency, the modeling of groundwater flow and movement, water quality monitoring, information systems, policy and management, innovations affecting global health, and breakthroughs in water science and engineering.
These are vital topics. And just as water lets us tap physical energy, events like this let us tap intellectual energy. There’s a lot of it in this room today, and I look forward to a stimulating, significant conference.