Advanced science and engineering are changing the face of telephony and communications, as well as energy and healthcare, but it hasn’t yet reshaped water technology. For example, eyes primary approach to treating sewage worldwide today, the activated sludge process, was invented over 100 years ago. It applies oxygen and bacteria to sewage to reduce the organic components. Despite incremental improvements, activated sludge processing remains largely unchanged in those hundred years, and is an important target for improvement. This process alone uses over 60% of the electricity required for sewage treatment.
The market opportunity for innovation is massive for innovation in activated sludge is massive, with a global municipal market of $2.2 billion, and an industrial market of $1.8 billion.
The Stanford study compares the levels of innovation in renewable energy and water, as measured by patents filed.
Simply raising the price of water services could have a dramatic impact on driving new solutions forward. Studies have found that higher energy prices encourage greater investment by energy users in conservation technologies.
“We see water scarcity in the Western US as an opportunity to consider new and innovative solutions and direct new funding into water innovation,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Newsha Ajami. “On a separate effort, we are working with policy leaders and utility officials to identify how financing models and policies from renewable energy and energy efficiency in California has led adoption of solar and wind, and might apply some of those models for driving water tech.” Ajami cites new models “virtual water trading on the local level” that mimick solar feedback tariffs and government sponsored funding mechanisms as some examples for the future.